Alpine Glaciers

Art & Science/ Mountaineering & Tourism/ Environmental Preservation

During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, a passion for mountain landscapes spread throughout Europe and later into North America. Artists, scientists, and writers introduced the sublime beauty and natural history of these regions, which were once fearfully regarded as the abode of demons and dragons.

Artists’ representations of alpine landscapes helped popularize the revolutionary concept of an Ice Age governed by the movement of glaciers and ice sheets over vast stretches of time. Their work contributed to an expanded vision of the earth’s age and the dynamics of its formation.

Artists’ views appeared in scientific publications, travelogues, popular magazines, and exhibitions. A vogue for mountain climbing and tourism to alpine terrain rapidly emerged. Collaborations between the arts and sciences stimulated a closer connection to the natural world. This led to the foundation of organizations such as the Sierra Club (1892) and the movement for environmental preservation.


Jean Charles Joseph Rémond (1795-1875), Limestone Peak of the Wetterhorn and Rosenlaui Glacier, 1842, National Museum of Natural History, Paris (Detail Right)

Artists were commissioned to create mural-size landscape paintings for natural history museums and schools of higher learning. These works helped students and visitors visualize the movement of glaciers, which was key to understanding the process of ice age formation and retreat.


Top Banner image: Joseph Mallard William Turner, Mer de Glace in the Valley of Chamouni, Switzerland, 1803, watercolor and graphite with gum on wove paper, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection