TURNER, Joseph Mallord William
(b. 1775, London, d. 1851, Chelsea)

The Fall of an Avalanche in the Grisons

Oil on canvas, 90 x 120 cm
Tate Gallery, London

A consortium of Turner's patrons clubbed together to send him to Paris, during an interlude of peace in 1802, to study in the Louvre. He first embarked on a tour of the Alps, whose bleak splendour and subjection to constant climatic and geological change taught him the awesome scale and mutability of nature. The Alpine tour resulted in some spectacular watercolours but also, later, in paintings. He had not, in fact, witnessed an avalanche in 1802, but news of a devastating one in the Grisons in 1808 seems to have prompted him to his picture of 1810, in which huge rocks, driven before the weight of snow, crush a tiny chalet. Without a single human figure, it is a terrible revelation of human vulnerability and natural power - and of the potential of landscape as a 'Grand Style' in its own right.