In Ruskin’s Footsteps at Bellinzona: The Salita della Nocca

This article returns the attention of Sublimesites.co to the southern Swiss city of Bellinzona to investigate another site drawn by John Ruskin. Bellinzona has been the subject of two previous articles published on 29 September 2014. The new site is the Salita della Nocca, a narrow, cobbled path that climbs outside the walls to Montebello Castle from the near the old south gate to the city. Ruskin made three works there during his visit to the city in 1858. Two of these, a pencil drawing and a watercolour are at the Bowdoin College of Art Museum, Maine, USA, and the third, a daguerreotype photograph is in the collection of Ken and Jenny Jacobson. The occasion of this article is the first publication of the daguerreotype in a superb catalogue raisonnee of Ruskin’s daguerreotypes by Ken and Jenny Jacobson, recently published by Bernard Quaritch. The three works have all previously been identified as Bellinzona, but this article for the first time identifies the exact site. (1)

Bellinzona: View from the Salita della Nocca Photograph by David Hill taken 1 November 2012, 15.24 GMT Ruskin seems to have taken advantage of the natural rock seat at the bottom left corner of this image. The building behind the trees in the centre is the present-day youth hostel. To the right are the walls and vineyard terraces of Montebello Castle. The site would have provided Ruskin with a shaded place to work in the heat of his visit in June-July 1858. Click on image to enlarge
Bellinzona: View from the Salita della Nocca
Photograph by David Hill taken 1 November 2012, 15.24 GMT
Ruskin seems to have taken advantage of the natural rock seat at the bottom left corner of this image. The building behind the trees in the centre is the present-day youth hostel. To the right are the walls and vineyard terraces of Montebello Castle. The site would have provided Ruskin with a shaded place to work in the heat of his visit in June-July 1858.
Click on image to enlarge
John Ruskin Bellinzona: The Salita della Nocca going up to Montebello Castle, 1858 Pencil on brown wove paper, 8 15/16 in. x 10 7/8 in, 227 x 276 mm Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Brunswick, Maine, USA, Gift of Miss Susan Dwight Bliss 1956.24.264d as ‘Landscape Study (Bellinzona)’ This drawing has long been identified as Bellinzona, but the viewpoint is here precisely identified for the first time. Photograph courtesy of Bowdoin College Museum of Art To view this image in Bowdoin’s own online catalogue, please click on the following link and use your browser’s ‘back’ button to return to this page: http://artmuseum.bowdoin.edu/Obj4228?sid=27317&x=16558
John Ruskin
Bellinzona: The Salita della Nocca going up to Montebello Castle, 1858
Pencil on brown wove paper, 8 15/16 in. x 10 7/8 in, 227 x 276 mm
Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Brunswick, Maine, USA, Gift of Miss Susan Dwight Bliss
1956.24.264d as ‘Landscape Study (Bellinzona)’
This drawing has long been identified as Bellinzona, but the viewpoint is here precisely identified for the first time.
Photograph courtesy of Bowdoin College Museum of Art
To view this image in Bowdoin’s own online catalogue, please click on the following link and use your browser’s ‘back’ button to return to this page:
http://artmuseum.bowdoin.edu/Obj4228?sid=27317&x=16558
Google Earth aerial view of Bellinzona Marking the viewpoint of the Salita dell Nocca in yellow, and Ruskin viewpoints discussed in previous articles in magenta. Other landmarks have white placemarks. Click on image to open full size
Google Earth aerial view of Bellinzona
Marking the viewpoint of the Salita dell Nocca in yellow, and Ruskin viewpoints discussed in previous articles in magenta. Other landmarks have white placemarks.
Click on image to open full size

Going up from the present youth hostel, the Salita della Nocca climbs steeply between a rock face on the right and a stone wall on the left. After a straight ascent the path turns left and on the corner is a natural rock seat. From here there is a view straight back down the path over the valley towards Lago Maggiore. Over the wall to the right are the vineyards and walls of Montebello Castle. Today, the Salita della Nocca is a quiet backwater, not often found by tourists. Its obscurity certainly explains why it has not previously been recognised, and also begs some questions as to what brought Ruskin to it. The large building in the centre of the pencil drawing is the modern youth hostel, but before that it housed a school, the Instituto Santa Maria. Beyond that on the Piazza San Rocco outside the Porta Lugano stood the hotel, the Aquila d’Oro, in which Ruskin stayed in 1858. I have not yet managed to exactly pinpoint the original hotel on the ground, but Ruskin does record that it had a good view south. It seems doubtful that he would have found out the Salita as a subject if he had not been staying nearby, and had it not been for him an obvious route of ascent to Montebello Castle.

One particular advantage of the Salita as a vantage point would have been its shade. Despite being amongst the mountains Bellinzona has a southern climate. When I visited in November 2012 it was still too warm to sit out in the direct sun for very long. Ruskin was there in June and July when the days heat up very rapidly, and he worried over the heat and drought. The south-west aspect of this view would have meant that he was nicely shaded right through the morning.

The Bowdoin pencil drawing takes in the wider field of view, with the walls of Montebello Castle tumbling down to the old south gate, the Porta Lugano. The centre of the composition is dominated by the still-standing building that became the Instituto Santa Maria, and to the left is the Salita, flanked on the left by its rock wall, and on the right by a rough stone wall that takes advantage of some outcrops of native rock. The viewpoint is perfectly recognisable today. The native rock is still present in the wall, although less prominently than in Ruskin’s time and the ledges of rock to the left are remarkably unchanged. The building in the centre is the current youth hostel, and compares well with the present building from this angle. The vineyards to the right and fortified walls descending from Montebello Castle are also perfectly recognisable, but obscured somewhat by the growth of trees and the increased height of the foreground wall. When I photographed the view at about 4.30 pm (local) on 1 November 2012, the sun was almost directly contre-jour along the line of the path. The subject would be better in the morning with the light behind or to the left, and Ruskin seems to have applied himself to it after breakfast.

Going up to Montebello Castle, Bellinzona Photograph by David Hill taken 1 November 2012, 15.32 GMT Taken from further up the Salita della Nocca, above Ruskin’s viewpoint, close to that of Turner’s sketch TB CCCXXXVI 14. Were Ruskin to visit today he would no doubt have something to say about the overhead power cables and the near redundancy of the chapel to the left. Click on image to enlarge
Going up to Montebello Castle, Bellinzona
Photograph by David Hill taken 1 November 2012, 15.32 GMT
Taken from further up the Salita della Nocca, above Ruskin’s viewpoint, close to that of Turner’s sketch TB CCCXXXVI 14. Were Ruskin to visit today he would no doubt have something to say about the overhead power cables and the near redundancy of the chapel to the left.
Click on image to enlarge
J M W Tuner Bellinzona: Looking South-West from Castello Montebello, 1843? Pencil, pen, and watercolour on paper, 227 x 327 mm Tate Britain, Turner Bequest TB CCCXXXVI 14 (D33592) Shortly before his visit to Bellinzona in 1858, Ruskin spent some considerable time sorting through the tens of thousands of Turner sketches and drawings that were given to the National Gallery. He knew the late Swiss subjects such as this especially well, and in making his way up the Salita della Nocca to Montebello Castle might well have been searching out the exact viewpoint of this sketch. Turner’s viewpoint is near the top of the Salita, some distance higher than Ruskin’s.  Photograph courtesy Tate To see this image in the Tate’s own online catalogue click on the following link and use your browser’s ‘back’ button to return to this page: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/turner-bellinzona-looking-south-west-from-castello-montebello-d33592
J M W Tuner
Bellinzona: Looking South-West from Castello Montebello, 1843?
Pencil, pen, and watercolour on paper, 227 x 327 mm
Tate Britain, Turner Bequest TB CCCXXXVI 14 (D33592)
Shortly before his visit to Bellinzona in 1858, Ruskin spent some considerable time sorting through the tens of thousands of Turner sketches and drawings that were given to the National Gallery. He knew the late Swiss subjects such as this especially well, and in making his way up the Salita della Nocca to Montebello Castle might well have been searching out the exact viewpoint of this sketch. Turner’s viewpoint is near the top of the Salita, some distance higher than Ruskin’s.
Photograph courtesy Tate
To see this image in the Tate’s own online catalogue click on the following link and use your browser’s ‘back’ button to return to this page:
http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/turner-bellinzona-looking-south-west-from-castello-montebello-d33592

He might have been attracted to the view by the knowledge that Turner had drawn a similar subject, but from a slightly higher viewpoint in TB CCCXXXVI 14 (Tate Britain). He spent the winter before his visit to Bellinzona sorting through the tens of thousands of sketches and drawings that Turner had Bequeathed to the National Gallery. He was particularly fond of sketches from Turner’s later tours to the Alps and he would have been particularly interested in those of Bellinzona. Ruskin’s treatment of the material is, however, completely different. Turner takes the attention immediately to the broad spaces of the middle distance and from there to the distant Lago Maggiore and flanking hills. Ruskin on the other hand resolutely keeps the attention in the foreground, even in the more expansive of the two compositions, and only reluctantly allows the eye to escape into the valley and distance. He had a professional interest in wine growing – his father was a major sherry importer – and he cast a knowledgeable and critical eye over the cultivation of the terraces in the area.

Another of Ruskin’s major interests was geology and he was particularly interested by the gneiss rock of Bellinzona, which reminded him of his native Scotland, particularly of Glen Garry and Glenfinlas that he had studied carefully in previous years.

The rocks to the left especially caught his attention, and having thoroughly comprehended their structural character in pencil, he set on to develop his complete his understanding of their material nature in colour. Ruskin worked slowly in colour, and the Bowdoin watercolour is a typically intense product of observation and consideration, applied to a limited field of view, probably over several days. It is remarkable how unchanged is the rock; it appears to have hardly weathered at all in the one hundred and fifty four years that separates his drawing and my photograph. The character of the exposure is, however, rather different. In Ruskin’s day the surface appears to have been relatively clean and dry. In November 2012 the path was overshaded by trees, and much damper, so that the rock was covered in algae, liverwort and moss and the bedding fractures festooned with autumn leaves. In many ways the site presented an even more typically Ruskinian subject to my camera than it had to his pencils and watercolour, though he would have no doubt been dismayed by the drainage pipe now affixed to his subject.

He finished his visual investigations by having his assistant, Frederick Crawley take a photograph of an even more concentrated view of the bedding fractures. This was discovered in the treasure-trove of unrecognised Ruskin Daguerreotypes that Ken and Jenny Jacobson secured in 2006. As they recount in their catalogue, the subject (quite understandably) resisted identification. Initially it was thought to be a landscape-format composition, and a suggestion was made that it might have been taken at Fribourg [an important subject for Ruskin and the subject of several other daguerreotypes] until the scholar Ian Warrell realised it might be a portrait-format and thus made the connection with the drawings at Bowdoin. It was only when the book arrived in the post last weekend, that I had my first sight of the daguerreotype, and realised that I had photographed the exact subject in 2012 when researching the Bowdoin drawings. Cropping one of my original photographs to the field of view of the daguerreotype, I was surprised just how exactly it could be made to match. The pipe is perhaps not such a photogenic object, and before the growth of the trees the surface of the rock was drier and more exclusively lichenous, but the roofline at the foot of the path lined up precisely, and the colours turned out to be remarkably in tune with Ruskin’s palette in many of his studies of rocks and vegetation.

Rock study on the Salita della Nocca, Bellinzona Photograph by David Hill taken 1 November 2012, 15.27 GMT This photograph is cropped to exactly the same field of view as the daguerreotype taken for Ruskin by Frederick Crawley. The daguerreotype is currently exclusively available in the new publication, ‘Bringing Home the Palaces: The Lost Daguerreotypes of John Ruskin’ by Ken and Jenny Jacobson (Quaritch, 2015). I did not know of the daguerreotype when I visited Bellinzona in 2012, but give that Ruskin was taking advantage of a natural rock seat as his vantage point it is not coincidental that I Photographed the same view. Even so it was exciting to see just how well preserved are the details today. Ruskin might not have been so enamoured of the drain pipe now fixed to the rock. Click on image to enlarge
Rock study on the Salita della Nocca, Bellinzona
Photograph by David Hill taken 1 November 2012, 15.27 GMT
This photograph is cropped to exactly the same field of view as the daguerreotype taken for Ruskin by Frederick Crawley. The daguerreotype is currently exclusively available in the new publication, ‘Bringing Home the Palaces: The Lost Daguerreotypes of John Ruskin’ by Ken and Jenny Jacobson (Quaritch, 2015). I did not know of the daguerreotype when I visited Bellinzona in 2012, but give that Ruskin was taking advantage of a natural rock seat as his vantage point it is not coincidental that I Photographed the same view. Even so it was exciting to see just how well preserved are the details today. Ruskin might not have been so enamoured of the drain pipe now fixed to the rock.
Click on image to enlarge

Understandably, with their collection of Ruskin daguerreotypes just published, the Jacobsons want to restrict dissemination of images to their book for the time being. In due course, when an image becomes available, I will post it alongside my photograph. In the meantime I can say that it is well worth seeking out the book. It is a foundational contribution to Ruskin scholarship, and a real labour of love.

The comparison of the daguerreotype with the drawings is instructive. The pencil drawing, for example, imputes a much more sinuous character to the rock, capturing the processes of deformation and fluid plasticity that the rock has endured. This is still more intensively entered into in the watercolour. Peculiarly, neither drawing nor watercolour give anything like the visual prominence to the surface lichen that is one of the most striking features of the daguerreotype. It is noted to some degree in the watercolour, but sparingly. One striking elision from the watercolour, especially, is of the vegetation that the photograph, and to some degree the pencil drawing, shows growing along the line of fracture of the bedding planes. Ruskin normally took full account of such matters, as intrinsic expressions of the nature of the subject. His principal motive here, however, was the plastic nature of the rock. There are one or two indications of the vegetation, but in this case carried no further than that. The most striking difference between photograph and drawings is that the photograph projects a sense of solid, static mass, the drawings project a sense of fluidity, dynamism, movement and change. The one freezes time and process, the other takes time and enacts process and comprehends change in both short and long durations. The one is raw data, the other processed, and remoulded by the questions, clarifications and frameworks of perception of the intelligent understanding.

Note
1 John Hayman, John Ruskin and Switzerland, 1990, nos. 41, 42 identifies the Bowdoin drawings as from the Castello Grande looking towards Locarno, noting that there is no longer any access to the rocky path. Ken and Jenny Jacobson’s catalogue of the daguerreotypes, Carrying off the Palaces: John Ruskin’s Lost Daguerreotypes, 2015, no.309 and pp.110-11 describes the subject as ‘Castelgrande. Rock face in castle grounds’.

Acknowledgement
I am grateful to Joachim Homann (Curator) and Michelle Henning (Assistant to the Registrar) at Bowdoin College for permission to reproduce the drawings by John Ruskin in their care.

Bellinzona Salita small image

Turner at Sallanches, 1836

This article is prompted by a watercolour that Turner made on his tour to the Alps in 1836. That tour was the subject of the exhibition Turner, Mont Blanc and the Val d’Aosta held at the Archaeological Museum in Aosta in 2000. At that time I identified its subject as the French town of Sallanches, in the Savoy Alps. The watercolour was exhibited by Lowell Libson in New York in January 2015, re-identified as Chambery, which was one of the last sites that Turner visited in 1836. The re-identification was made by Ian Warrell in an essay published in Lowell Libson’s 2015 catalogue.* My purpose here is to stand by my original identification: The subject remains Sallanches.

J.M.W.Turner Sallanches, Savoy, 1836 Watercolour, 9 3/4 x 10 3/4 ins, 249 x 273 mm Exhibited by Lowell Libson Ltd in New York, January, 2015 as ‘'A distant view over Chambéry, from the North, with storm clouds' This article stands by my 2000 identification of the subject as the view of Sallanches from the northern lip of the Gorges de Levaud, looking down to the Eglise St Jacques, with the Aiguille de Varan in the distance. Photograph courtesy of Lowell Libson Ltd. To view this watercolour on the Lowell Libson website click on the following link, then use your browser’s ‘back’ button to return to this page: http://www.lowell-libson.com/pictures/a-distant-view-over-chambery-from-the-north-with-storm-clouds Click on image to enlarge
J.M.W.Turner
Sallanches, Savoy, 1836
Watercolour, 9 3/4 x 10 3/4 ins, 249 x 273 mm
Exhibited by Lowell Libson Ltd in New York, January, 2015 as ‘’A distant view over Chambéry, from the North, with storm clouds’
This article stands by my 2000 identification of the subject as the view of Sallanches from the northern lip of the Gorges de Levaud, looking down to the Eglise St Jacques, with the Aiguille de Varan in the distance.
Photograph courtesy of Lowell Libson Ltd.
To view this watercolour on the Lowell Libson website click on the following link, then use your browser’s ‘back’ button to return to this page:
http://www.lowell-libson.com/pictures/a-distant-view-over-chambery-from-the-north-with-storm-clouds
Click on image to enlarge

*Lowell Libson’s 2015 catalogue can be downloaded as a pdf by clicking on the link below. Use your browser’s ‘back’ button to return to this page:

Click to access Lowell_Libson_2015.pdf


The watercolour, and Ian Warrell’s article, is at page 120.

Google Earth satellite image of Sallanches and the Arve valley to Chamonix Click on image to enlarge
Google Earth satellite image of Sallanches and the Arve valley to Chamonix
Click on image to enlarge

In Turner’s day Sallanches provided a halfway halt on the journey from Geneva to Chamonix. Most modern tourists rush by intent on snowy peaks but for Turner’s generation it was a very special place. As one heads south from Geneva the Arve valley contracts to a gorge at Cluses. Beyond that the valley opens out again, and at Sallanches provides the first sight of Mont Blanc. In my 1992 book Turner in the Alps, in which I traced the footsteps of his first visit to the Alps in 1802, I described this part of the valley as ‘the courtyard of Mont Blanc’, and most travellers took the time to take in the situation, and look forward to getting amongst the peaks. Turner particularly so, and he made several watercolours in the area. In 1836 he was retracing his own footsteps of thirty- four years earlier, and once again took the time to ground himself in the place properly.

He revisited his sites of 1802, and also found new ground to explore on the slopes above Sallanches, finding viewpoints around the valley of the Torrent de Sallanches. My contention is that the Lowell Libson watercolour is the culmination of these explorations.

I have visited Sallanches several times over the past twenty-five years, and taken a number of photographs, but various factors including trees in the gorge, chalet development in the pastures along the lip and various companions intent on hurrying up to the high peaks, prevented my photographing all of Turner’s subjects in the area. I recently revised my material on these sketches for the new catalogue of the Turner Bequest. This may be accessed online at:
http://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/sketchbooks-used-on-tour-to-the-alps-r1144578#synopsis [Search for ‘Sallanches’]

The exhibition of the watercolour this January, however, prompted a revisit over four Spring days this March, and a systematic review of every subject. Tree growth remains a problem in some cases, but I did manage to find angles on every subject sufficient to confirm his exact vantage points. It became manifest that he frequently worked synthetically with his material. The Tate catalogue material can now be significantly augmented, and a close look at each sketch provides an object lesson in the creativity in his approach to topography in 1836. It contrasts markedly, for example, with his 1828 sketch of Rome from the Aventine (see SublimeSites.co article of 22 January 2015). That is a tour de force of naturalistic placement. His approach in 1836 is to take his topography on a roller-coaster of energised resynthesis, imaginative assimilation and recalibration.

Google Earth image of Sallanches, showing general area of sketches. Aiguille de Varan in background to left, Mont Blanc to right. Click on image to enlarge
Google Earth image of Sallanches, showing general area of sketches. Aiguille de Varan in background to left, Mont Blanc to right.
Click on image to enlarge
Google Earth image of Turner’s 1836 viewpoints around the Gorges de Levaud at Sallanches Click on image to enlarge
Google Earth image of Turner’s 1836 viewpoints around the Gorges de Levaud at Sallanches
Click on image to enlarge

In 1836 Turner visited Sallanches on his way to the Val d’Aosta on the southern side of Mont Blanc. He probably put up at the Hotel du Mont Blanc at the little village of St Martin. At that time the main road to Chamonix ran on the right bank of the Arve, and travellers had to cross the old bridge at St Martin to visit Sallanches.

By the 1830s it was possible to go from Geneva to Chamonix in a single day, and the Hotel du Mont Blanc gradually lost its trade. It became a particular favourite of John Ruskin, who saw it as a symbol of a time when travellers had a proper engagement with the world through which they moved. He titled a chapter of his autobiography Praeterita, after it. This article has a postscript in which I consider one of Ruskin’s studies at Sallanches.

Turner’s previous visit was in 1802, when he was twenty-seven, during his first trip abroad. He remembered his earlier subjects – and must have been reminded how much his practice had progressed and deepened. Working in a sketchbook that he had served him for the entire journey thus far [Val d’Aosta sketchbook, Tate TB CCXCIII] he revisited some of the subjects that he had found in 1802.

J.M.W.Turner Sketches in the Arve Valley (detail), 1836 Pencil on paper, page width 113 mm From the Val d’Aosta sketchbook, Tate Britain, London, TB CCXCIII 28a (detail of lower part of page) Turner’s first thought at Sallanches was to reconsider subjects from his previous visit of 1802. Here he takes a two-part panorama of the view of Sallanches from St Martin, swinging round to the left to take in the view of Mont Blanc. Image courtesy of Tate; to see the original image in the online catalogue of the Turner Bequest click on the following link, then press your browser’s ‘back’ button to return to this page: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/joseph-mallord-william-turner-five-sketches-in-the-arve-valley-at-cluses-and-sallanches-r1167978
J.M.W.Turner
Sketches in the Arve Valley (detail), 1836
Pencil on paper, page width 113 mm
From the Val d’Aosta sketchbook, Tate Britain, London, TB CCXCIII 28a (detail of lower part of page)
Turner’s first thought at Sallanches was to reconsider subjects from his previous visit of 1802. Here he takes a two-part panorama of the view of Sallanches from St Martin, swinging round to the left to take in the view of Mont Blanc.
Image courtesy of Tate; to see the original image in the online catalogue of the Turner Bequest click on the following link, then press your browser’s ‘back’ button to return to this page:
http://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/joseph-mallord-william-turner-five-sketches-in-the-arve-valley-at-cluses-and-sallanches-r1167978
Mont Blanc from St Martin, near Sallanches Photograph by David Hill, taken 11 March 2015, 14.08 GMT Click on image to view full size
Mont Blanc from St Martin, near Sallanches
Photograph by David Hill, taken 11 March 2015, 14.08 GMT
Click on image to view full size
Sallanches from above St Martin Photograph by David Hill, taken 11 March 2015, 12.47 GMT Click on image to view full size.
Sallanches from above St Martin
Photograph by David Hill, taken 11 March 2015, 12.47 GMT
Click on image to view full size.

Gallery of Turner’s sketches of 1802 and finished watercolours.
Click on any image to open the gallery

In 1802 his main subjects had been the view of Mont Blanc that was the principal focus for the tourist, and the town of Sallanches backed by its green pastures and limestone crags. In 1802 he had made highly worked drawings of a grand old masterly kind; now his notes were very much more nimble and confident in the way that he assimilated the forms. Mont Blanc and the Arve valley now requires no more than a few quick lines, and he is entirely confident in what he has absorbed of the form, and even if the definition of the peaks from Mont Maudit at the left, through to the Domes de Miage at the right is completely unselfconscious, it is entirely relatable, even down to the placing of summit of Le Prarion below the col between Mont Maudit and the Aiguille du Gouter, as indeed it appears from this angle. The sketch of Sallanches records a wide sweep from Les Quatre Tetes at the right to the slopes of Croisse Baulet towards the left. Once again he compresses a large amount of specific information in what appears to be little more than a few glances, and manages to record the cluster of monumental buildings at the debouchement of the Fours de Sallanches. At the centre is the Chateau des Rubins, and then tracking right, the tower of the Eglise St Jacques, the Tour de Disonche and the Tour de la Frasse, swiftly drawn but sufficiently individuated to be easily recognised. They were to become the principal architectural reference points in his subsequent suite of sketches.

J.M.W.Turner Sketches in the Arve Valley (detail of towers at Sallanches), 1836 Pencil on paper, page width 113 mm From the Val d’Aosta sketchbook, Tate Britain, London, TB CCXCIII 28a ) Image courtesy of Tate; to see the original image in the online catalogue of the Turner Bequest click on the following link, then press your browser’s ‘back’ button to return to this page: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/joseph-mallord-william-turner-five-sketches-in-the-arve-valley-at-cluses-and-sallanches-r1167978
J.M.W.Turner
Sketches in the Arve Valley (detail of towers at Sallanches), 1836
Pencil on paper, page width 113 mm
From the Val d’Aosta sketchbook, Tate Britain, London, TB CCXCIII 28a )
Image courtesy of Tate; to see the original image in the online catalogue of the Turner Bequest click on the following link, then press your browser’s ‘back’ button to return to this page:
http://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/joseph-mallord-william-turner-five-sketches-in-the-arve-valley-at-cluses-and-sallanches-r1167978
Sallanches from above St Martin Photograph by David Hill taken 11 March 2015, 13.10 GMT Detail of (left of centre) Chateau des Rubins, (centre) Eglise St Jacques, (right of centre) Tour de Disonche and Tour de la Frasse. The key architectural landmarks of Turner’s 1836 studies of Sallanches.
Sallanches from above St Martin
Photograph by David Hill taken 11 March 2015, 13.10 GMT
Detail of (left of centre) Chateau des Rubins, (centre) Eglise St Jacques, (right of centre) Tour de Disonche and Tour de la Frasse. The key architectural landmarks of Turner’s 1836 studies of Sallanches.
The Aiguille de Varan above the bridge at St Martin Photograph by David Hill, taken June 1992
The Aiguille de Varan above the bridge at St Martin
Photograph by David Hill, taken June 1992

But in 1836 he was also looking for something new. His attention began to gravitate towards the Aiguille de Varan, rising almost two kilometres above the valley floor. He sketched the still-fine view over the bridge, which I first photographed in 1992 when travelling the route for Turner in the Alps. At that time I adopted a portrait format, so as to preserve the sense of verticality. In his 1836 sketch, however, Turner retained the landscape-format of his page in order to include a remarkably wide angle of view. Until my recent visit I had never doubted the straightforwardness of Turner’s treatment of the subject, but on site with a photograph of the sketch in my hand it became obvious that he had treated his observations as entirely malleable. The ‘story’ of the bridge at St Martin is that the Aiguille de Varan towers over it, with the little church of St Martin to the left, and Mont Blanc to the right. The reality is slightly more awkward than Turner’s sketch suggests. If one lines up the Aiguille over the bridge, the church slides out a little to the left. If one lines up the church spire with the Aiguille, as Turner does in the sketch, one has to look over the river from the left, rather than over the bridge. If one is to bring in a sight of the bridge arch, then one has to move to the right, and the Aiguilles slides out to the right. The whole time Mont Blanc is rather too far round to the right to be accommodated. So in the sketch Turner has adopted at least two viewpoints. The first takes the bridge and church spire from slightly upstream. The second takes the whole panorama of the Aiguille de Varan and Mont Blanc, compresses it into the space of the page, and sets the summit of the Aiguille directly over the spire of the church, and brings in Mont Blanc as to be almost over the bridge cross. It was a surprise on site to find Turner so actively manipulating his material in such a straightforward-looking pencil sketch. It was perhaps even more surprising to realise that I had been there several times before and assumed the sketch recorded the site just the way it is. The strange thing is that even having worked through his sleights of hand on site, and even with the photographic evidence before me, my memory insists that the Turner sketch is right, and that the photographs don’t nearly so well record the way that it is. This is all rather different to his practice in the Rome sketches of 1828 discussed in the earlier article. By 1836 Turner was confident enough in his assimilation of a place as to be able to draw its memory directly. It would be an interesting project to try and chart his routine adoption of this process. Presumably it must develop in the interval between 1828 and 1836. As we shall see, it is a practice that that seems well established at Sallanches.

The Bridge of St Martin, with the Aiguille de Varan Photograph by David Hill take 11 March 2015, 11.48 GMT Click on image to open at full size
The Bridge of St Martin, with the Aiguille de Varan
Photograph by David Hill take 11 March 2015, 11.48 GMT
Click on image to open at full size
J.M.W.Turner The Aiguille de Varan from across St Martin’s bridge, near Sallanches, 1836 Pencil on paper, page size 113 x 190 mm From the Val d’Aosta sketchbook, Tate Britain, London, TB CCXCIII 28 Turner probably stayed in the Hotel du Mont Blanc at the far side of the bridge. The summit of the Aiguille de Varan is nearly two vertical kilometres above the bridge. Image courtesy of Tate; to see the original image in the online catalogue of the Turner Bequest click on the following link, then press your browser’s ‘back’ button to return to this page: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/turner-the-aiguille-de-varan-from-st-martins-bridge-d29086
J.M.W.Turner
The Aiguille de Varan from across St Martin’s bridge, near Sallanches, 1836
Pencil on paper, page size 113 x 190 mm
From the Val d’Aosta sketchbook, Tate Britain, London, TB CCXCIII 28
Turner probably stayed in the Hotel du Mont Blanc at the far side of the bridge. The summit of the Aiguille de Varan is nearly two vertical kilometres above the bridge.
Image courtesy of Tate; to see the original image in the online catalogue of the Turner Bequest click on the following link, then press your browser’s ‘back’ button to return to this page:
http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/turner-the-aiguille-de-varan-from-st-martins-bridge-d29086
Panorama of the Bridge of St Martin, with the Aiguille to Varan over, and Mont Blanc to the right Photograph by David Hill taken 11 March 2015, 11.55 GMT Click on image to open at full size
Panorama of the Bridge of St Martin, with the Aiguille to Varan over, and Mont Blanc to the right
Photograph by David Hill taken 11 March 2015, 11.55 GMT
Click on image to open at full size

The Aiguille de Varan figured as his constant reference in every one of the sketches he made at Sallanches in 1836. Another subject was a quick note of the view down the Torrent de Sallanches as it runs through the village down towards the Arve. The Aiguille de Varan is in the background:

J.M.W.Turner Two Sketches: Sallanches in the Arve Valley; Avise in the Val d'Aosta (detail), 1836 Pencil on paper, page width 113 mm From the Val d’Aosta sketchbook, Tate Britain, London, TB CCXCIII 38a detail From Sallanches, looking down the torrent de Sallanches to the Aiguille de Varan Image courtesy of Tate; to see the original image in the online catalogue of the Turner Bequest click on the following link, then press your browser’s ‘back’ button to return to this page: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/joseph-mallord-william-turner-two-sketches-sallanches-in-the-arve-valley-avise-in-the-val-r1167996
J.M.W.Turner
Two Sketches: Sallanches in the Arve Valley; Avise in the Val d’Aosta (detail), 1836
Pencil on paper, page width 113 mm
From the Val d’Aosta sketchbook, Tate Britain, London, TB CCXCIII 38a detail
From Sallanches, looking down the torrent de Sallanches to the Aiguille de Varan
Image courtesy of Tate; to see the original image in the online catalogue of the Turner Bequest click on the following link, then press your browser’s ‘back’ button to return to this page:
http://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/joseph-mallord-william-turner-two-sketches-sallanches-in-the-arve-valley-avise-in-the-val-r1167996
The Aiguille de Varan from Sallanches Photograph by David Hill, taken September 1999
The Aiguille de Varan from Sallanches
Photograph by David Hill, taken September 1999

But his main objective was a view of the Aiguille from above the town, so he set off up the Route de Doran past the Church of St Jacques. At the first bend in the road he paused to take a sketch looking back to the church between the Tour de la Frasse on the left, and the Tour de Disonche on the right, with Mont Blanc over the church tower to the right. Once again, I was surprised by Turner’s syntheticism. The church tower can indeed be framed between the foreground buildings, and the turret made to aspire to Mont Blanc. I photographed this grouping in 1991, but did not realise at that time that Turner had grafted two different views together. He first sketched the buildings and Mont Blanc from a similar angle to the photograph, and then shifted his position higher and further right so that he could compress the wider panorama and slide in the view of the Aiguille de Varan.

J.M.W.Turner Two Sketches: Looking Down the Val d'Aosta to Courmayeur and Dolonne, and The Aiguille de Varan and Mont Blanc from Above Sallanches (detail of the sketch of Sallanches), 1836 Pencil on paper, page width 113 mm From the Val d’Aosta sketchbook, Tate Britain, London, TB CCXCIII 37 detail With the Tour de la Frasse and the Tour de Disonche framing the Church of St Jacques. Turner incorporates two different viewpoints in the one sketch, so as to more tellingly integrate the buildings with the mountains. At this time the church tower had an onion spire on its turret. This was the casualty of a fire in 1840. Image courtesy of Tate; to see the original image in the online catalogue of the Turner Bequest click on the following link, then press your browser’s ‘back’ button to return to this page: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/joseph-mallord-william-turner-two-sketches-looking-down-the-val-daosta-to-courmayeur-and-r1167993
J.M.W.Turner
Two Sketches: Looking Down the Val d’Aosta to Courmayeur and Dolonne, and The Aiguille de Varan and Mont Blanc from Above Sallanches (detail of the sketch of Sallanches), 1836
Pencil on paper, page width 113 mm
From the Val d’Aosta sketchbook, Tate Britain, London, TB CCXCIII 37 detail
With the Tour de la Frasse and the Tour de Disonche framing the Church of St Jacques. Turner incorporates two different viewpoints in the one sketch, so as to more tellingly integrate the buildings with the mountains.
At this time the church tower had an onion spire on its turret. This was the casualty of a fire in 1840.
Image courtesy of Tate; to see the original image in the online catalogue of the Turner Bequest click on the following link, then press your browser’s ‘back’ button to return to this page:
http://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/joseph-mallord-william-turner-two-sketches-looking-down-the-val-daosta-to-courmayeur-and-r1167993
Mont Blanc from Sallanches Photo by David Hill taken June 1991. Taken from the first bend of the Route de Doran above Sallanches. When Turner sketched this material in 1836 he combined it with the mountains as seen from a higher vantage point. Click on image to enlarge.
Mont Blanc from Sallanches
Photo by David Hill taken June 1991.
Taken from the first bend of the Route de Doran above Sallanches. When Turner sketched this material in 1836 he combined it with the mountains as seen from a higher vantage point.
Click on image to enlarge.
Panorama of the Arve Valley from above Sallanches Photograph by David Hill, taken 11 March 2015, 14.52 GMT. Turner initially drew the buildings from further left, so as to frame the church tower, but this higher viewpoint enabled him to encompass the Aiguille de Varan and Mont Blanc. Click on image to enlarge
Panorama of the Arve Valley from above Sallanches
Photograph by David Hill, taken 11 March 2015, 14.52 GMT.
Turner initially drew the buildings from further left, so as to frame the church tower, but this higher viewpoint enabled him to encompass the Aiguille de Varan and Mont Blanc.
Click on image to enlarge

As one gains height along the Route de Doran, the view opens up to give an impressive panorama over the valley from Cluses in the north towards Megeve in the south. In between, the Arve is enclosed by a cirque, dominated by the Varan at the left and the Mont Blanc massif as one pans round to the right. By anyone’s measure it is one of the best panoramas in the Alps, particularly because it offers some foreground space and perspective on the high peaks. Turner decided to devote some serious attention to all this, and took out some larger, loose sheets of paper that he had with him, and made a series of pencil sketches working his way around the Fours de Sallanche.

J.M.W.Turner The Arve Valley, with the Aiguille de Varan and Mont Blanc from above Sallanches, 1836 Pencil and scratching-out on grey paper, faded to a reddish tone, 238 x 312 mm ‘Miscellanous: Black and White’, Tate Britain, London, TB CCCXLII 77 From the northern scarp of the torrent de Sallanches at the foot of the Gorges de Levaud. The area is today covered in trees. Image courtesy of Tate; to see the original image in the online catalogue of the Turner Bequest click on the following link, then press your browser’s ‘back’ button to return to this page: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/turner-sallanches-d34279
J.M.W.Turner
The Arve Valley, with the Aiguille de Varan and Mont Blanc from above Sallanches, 1836
Pencil and scratching-out on grey paper, faded to a reddish tone, 238 x 312 mm
‘Miscellanous: Black and White’, Tate Britain, London, TB CCCXLII 77
From the northern scarp of the torrent de Sallanches at the foot of the Gorges de Levaud. The area is today covered in trees.
Image courtesy of Tate; to see the original image in the online catalogue of the Turner Bequest click on the following link, then press your browser’s ‘back’ button to return to this page:
http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/turner-sallanches-d34279
The Arve Valley from above Sallanches, with the Aiguille de Varan and Mont Blanc. Photograph by David Hill, taken 10 March 2015, 14.40 GMT Turner’s sketch (TB CCCXLII 77) is taken from a similar angle to this, but from lower down, and slightly further right. The exact view is impeded by trees. Click on image to enlarge.
The Arve Valley from above Sallanches, with the Aiguille de Varan and Mont Blanc.
Photograph by David Hill, taken 10 March 2015, 14.40 GMT
Turner’s sketch (TB CCCXLII 77) is taken from a similar angle to this, but from lower down, and slightly further right. The exact view is impeded by trees.
Click on image to enlarge.

The exact view of the first larger sketch is a little way up the Route du Doran near the second (right-hand) bend. Even in the winter, however, the material is obscured by trees. It is possible, however, to climb up into the pasture above the next stretch of road and verify the material, and to discover that the material is once again not as straightforward as one might have assumed. The angle of view is over 100 degrees, and the material is condensed into the space. Nonetheless this, as is generally the case with these sketches, does accurately give the memory of the way in which the elements crowd upon one’s impression. It is worth noting the way that he uses scratching out through the grey wash to make out the snowy crests of Mont Blanc. Notwithstanding that, there are specific problems. The Tour de Disonche, for example, is wrongly oriented. Turner shows it more or less in the same aspect as it appears in his sketch at the first bend in the road. As it appears here, it is turned through 90 degrees. Its roof ridge runs at right angles to that of the church so we should be looking down the line of its ridge, rather than flat upon it. Quite what the explanation for this might be is unclear. At the very least one can say that Turner was not looking at it when he drew. It is there, sure enough, and it might be no more than it was obscured by a tree. But the problems persist. His treatment of the church is rather less than professorial: The bell-tower, has two tiers of openings, and the tower is distinctly offset to the north (far) side of the nave. The Chateau des Rubins at the right is treated rather cursorily and most of the buildings of the town are merely suggested through a lattice of scribbling. That said, he does notice another of the tower-houses of Sallanches, that of the Chateau Breches, just to the left of the Chateau des Rubins, hastily indicated but nonetheless individuated. The Chateau Breches was a new observation so he took trouble over that. We might conclude, I think that Turner felt that he didn’t need to pay the familiar buildings too much attention. He could find material for these elsewhere. For now, it was the grander scheme that interested him more; he was looking for a picture.

J.M.W.Turner The Arve Valley, with the Aiguille de Varan and Mont Blanc from above Sallanches, 1836 Pencil and scratching-out on grey paper, faded to a pinkish tone, 238 x 312 mm ‘Miscellanous: Black and White’, Tate Britain, London, TB CCCXLII 75 From the northern edge of the valley of the Torrent de Sallanches near the later (1855) Chapel of the Immaculate Conception. Image courtesy of Tate; to see the original image in the online catalogue of the Turner Bequest click on the following link, then press your browser’s ‘back’ button to return to this page: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/turner-sallenche-d34277
J.M.W.Turner
The Arve Valley, with the Aiguille de Varan and Mont Blanc from above Sallanches, 1836
Pencil and scratching-out on grey paper, faded to a pinkish tone, 238 x 312 mm
‘Miscellanous: Black and White’, Tate Britain, London, TB CCCXLII 75
From the northern edge of the valley of the Torrent de Sallanches near the later (1855) Chapel of the Immaculate Conception.
Image courtesy of Tate; to see the original image in the online catalogue of the Turner Bequest click on the following link, then press your browser’s ‘back’ button to return to this page:
http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/turner-sallenche-d34277
Sallanches from the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception. Photograph by David Hill, taken 11 March 2015, 15.09 GMT. The chapel was built in 1855, but Turner took his sketch TB CCXLII 75 from the site in 1836. Today trees obscure the Tour de Disonche, but the Church of St Jacques can be made out clearly, pointing to the Aiguille de Varan, and the Chateau des Rubins at the right points to Mont Blanc. In the centre of the composition we can make out the course of the Torrent de Sallanches, spanned in Turner’s sketch by two bridges. Click on image to enlarge.
Sallanches from the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception.
Photograph by David Hill, taken 11 March 2015, 15.09 GMT.
The chapel was built in 1855, but Turner took his sketch TB CCXLII 75 from the site in 1836. Today trees obscure the Tour de Disonche, but the Church of St Jacques can be made out clearly, pointing to the Aiguille de Varan, and the Chateau des Rubins at the right points to Mont Blanc. In the centre of the composition we can make out the course of the Torrent de Sallanches, spanned in Turner’s sketch by two bridges.
Click on image to enlarge.

From the corner of the Route de Doran Turner continued his exploration along the lip of the Fors de Sallanches. Today there is a road, the Route de Levaud, which after a couple of hundred yards passes the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception. The chapel post-dates Turner’s visit – it was built in 1855 – but Turner made his second large sketch here, and presumably the chapel site was selected since it offered such a fine prospect. It is a popular site today, providing a decent uphill walk from the town, and a splendid sun-bathed spot for reflection or a picnic. When I was there in March the ground was sprinkled with primroses enjoying the early-season warmth. The view relates remarkably well to the sketch. The Tour de Disonche is obscured behind a tree to the left, but the church tower points directly to the summit of the Aiguille de Varan, and the tower of the Chateau des Rubins at the right points directly to Mont Blanc. Above and to the left of the Chateau des Rubins is the Chateau Breche noted in the previous sketch, and in the centre of the composition we can trace the course of the Torrent de Sallanches, spanned in Turner’s sketch by at least two bridges. It seems to give the complete picture of Sallanches. Most artists would have stopped there.

He also made his way down into the valley of the Sallanches river to the Chateau des Rubins. There is an old path that zig-zags down through the trees from the Chapel and perhaps this was Turner’s own route. He took two quick sketches in his pocket sketchbook looking past the Chateau des Rubins to the church, town and Aiguille de Varan. John Ruskin later sketched the Chateau des Rubins with the Aiguille de Varan behind, and his approach contrasts so markedly with Turner that I append his study at the end of this article as a postscript. For now, Turner does not seem to have thought that either subject warranted treatment on the larger sheets, but the systematic way in which he quartered the compass around his principal landmarks is typical of his practice. It gave him the co-ordinates to comprehend the geography of his site. In passing it is worth noting that Turner called the Chateau des Rubins the ‘Tour Pisa’ or the ‘Pal[ace] Pisa’. Presumably he was told that – he probably often hired the services of a local guide – but I have found no confirmation of that name in any of the easily available literature. In a third turn of the compass he made a final sketch in his pocket book of The towers of Sallanches with the Aiguille de Varan behind. We can work out the that the viewpoint is a little further downstream of the last, since the towers of Disonche, de la Frasse and the church are opened a little further, but I did not manage to confirm the identity of the building in the foreground, nor of that apparently to the left of the Tour de Disonche. I would be grateful to hear from anyone that might be able to amplify the detail and would be happy to publish any comments that help to develop the account.

J.M.W.Turner Two Sketches; The Head of Lake Geneva from near Lausanne; From above Sallanches in the Arve Valley to the Aiguille de Varan and Mont Blanc (detail of sketch of Sallanches), 1836 Pencil on paper, page width 113 mm From the Val d’Aosta sketchbook, Tate Britain, London, TB CCXCIII 62 detail From above the Chateau des Rubins, looking from the entrance to the Gorges de Levaud to Sallanches and the Aiguille de Varan. Image courtesy of Tate; to see the original image in the online catalogue of the Turner Bequest click on the following link, then press your browser’s ‘back’ button to return to this page: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/joseph-mallord-william-turner-two-sketches-the-head-of-lake-geneva-from-near-lausanne-from-r1168042
J.M.W.Turner
Two Sketches; The Head of Lake Geneva from near Lausanne; From above Sallanches in the Arve Valley to the Aiguille de Varan and Mont Blanc (detail of sketch of Sallanches), 1836
Pencil on paper, page width 113 mm
From the Val d’Aosta sketchbook, Tate Britain, London, TB CCXCIII 62 detail
From above the Chateau des Rubins, looking from the entrance to the Gorges de Levaud to Sallanches and the Aiguille de Varan.
Image courtesy of Tate; to see the original image in the online catalogue of the Turner Bequest click on the following link, then press your browser’s ‘back’ button to return to this page:
http://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/joseph-mallord-william-turner-two-sketches-the-head-of-lake-geneva-from-near-lausanne-from-r1168042
Sallanches, Savoy Photograph by David Hill, taken 9 March 2005, 10.36 am. Looking over the Chateau des Rubins to Sallanches with the Aiguille de Varan in the background.  up. Taken from the path leading down from the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception. The church tower is hidden behind the trees at the left. Ten years ago exactly, I note with some surprise, and much more snow than this year. Click on image to enlarge.
Sallanches, Savoy
Photograph by David Hill, taken 9 March 2005, 10.36 am.
Looking over the Chateau des Rubins to Sallanches with the Aiguille de Varan in the background. up. Taken from the path leading down from the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception. The church tower is hidden behind the trees at the left. Ten years ago exactly, I note with some surprise, and much more snow than this year.
Click on image to enlarge.
J.M.W.Turner Four Sketches: Arras; Storm in the ?Arve Valley; From above Sallanches; and From Pré St Didier in the Val d'Aosta (detail of sketch of Sallanches), 1836 Pencil on paper, page width 113 mm From the Val d’Aosta sketchbook, Tate Britain, London, TB CCXCIII 70a detail From opposite the Chateau des Rubins, scanning across the Tour de Disonche with a glimpse of the Tour de la Frasse beyond to the right, to the Church of St Jacques and the Aiguille de Varan. Turner routinely quartered the compass at his major sites, so as to be able to mentally rotate the main co-ordinates of his geography. The viewpoint is now occupied by the new Centre Levaud Sports Hall, though Turner compresses his elements together somewhat. My photograph is somewhat to the left of the centre. Image courtesy of Tate; to see the original image in the online catalogue of the Turner Bequest click on the following link, then press your browser’s ‘back’ button to return to this page: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/joseph-mallord-william-turner-four-sketches-arras-storm-in-the-arve-valley-from-above-r1144717
J.M.W.Turner
Four Sketches: Arras; Storm in the ?Arve Valley; From above Sallanches; and From Pré St Didier in the Val d’Aosta (detail of sketch of Sallanches), 1836
Pencil on paper, page width 113 mm
From the Val d’Aosta sketchbook, Tate Britain, London, TB CCXCIII 70a detail
From opposite the Chateau des Rubins, scanning across the Tour de Disonche with a glimpse of the Tour de la Frasse beyond to the right, to the Church of St Jacques and the Aiguille de Varan. Turner routinely quartered the compass at his major sites, so as to be able to mentally rotate the main co-ordinates of his geography. The viewpoint is now occupied by the new Centre Levaud Sports Hall, though Turner compresses his elements together somewhat. My photograph is somewhat to the left of the centre.
Image courtesy of Tate; to see the original image in the online catalogue of the Turner Bequest click on the following link, then press your browser’s ‘back’ button to return to this page:
http://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/joseph-mallord-william-turner-four-sketches-arras-storm-in-the-arve-valley-from-above-r1144717
Sallanches: The Chateau des Rubins, Eglise de St Jacques and Aiguille de Varan Photograph by David Hill taken 10 March 2015, 12.51 GMT Click on image to enlarge.
Sallanches: The Chateau des Rubins, Eglise de St Jacques and Aiguille de Varan
Photograph by David Hill taken 10 March 2015, 12.51 GMT
Click on image to enlarge.
J.M.W.Turner Two Sketches: The Tomb of Thomas Balsall in the Sanctuary of Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-Upon-Avon; A Town in an Alpine Valley (detail of the latter, now identified as Sallanches), 1836 Pencil on paper, page width 113 mm From the Val d’Aosta sketchbook, Tate Britain, London, TB CCXCIII 81 detail In my recent listing of these sketches for the online catalogue of the Turner Bequest at the Tate (see below) I tentatively suggested that this might show Sallanches. This can now be confirmed. The towers of de Disonche, de la Frasse and the church are seen before the Aiguille de Varan. From their angle we can work out that Turner’s viewpoint is a little below that of f.70a, above, but I could not confirm the identity of the foreground tower, nor that to the left of the Tour de Disonche. Image courtesy of Tate; to see the original image in the online catalogue of the Turner Bequest click on the following link, then press your browser’s ‘back’ button to return to this page: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/joseph-mallord-william-turner-two-sketches-the-tomb-of-thomas-balsall-in-the-sanctuary-of-r1144738
J.M.W.Turner
Two Sketches: The Tomb of Thomas Balsall in the Sanctuary of Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-Upon-Avon; A Town in an Alpine Valley (detail of the latter, now identified as Sallanches), 1836
Pencil on paper, page width 113 mm
From the Val d’Aosta sketchbook, Tate Britain, London, TB CCXCIII 81 detail
In my recent listing of these sketches for the online catalogue of the Turner Bequest at the Tate (see below) I tentatively suggested that this might show Sallanches. This can now be confirmed. The towers of de Disonche, de la Frasse and the church are seen before the Aiguille de Varan. From their angle we can work out that Turner’s viewpoint is a little below that of f.70a, above, but I could not confirm the identity of the foreground tower, nor that to the left of the Tour de Disonche.
Image courtesy of Tate; to see the original image in the online catalogue of the Turner Bequest click on the following link, then press your browser’s ‘back’ button to return to this page:
http://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/joseph-mallord-william-turner-two-sketches-the-tomb-of-thomas-balsall-in-the-sanctuary-of-r1144738

Turner made one final large sketch at Sallanches from a viewpoint on the Route de Levaud beyond the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception, but its proved impossible to stand on the actual ground or take a photograph. We can, however, work out from the angles of view in the sketch on the Tour de Disonche, Church, Chateau des Rubins, Aiguille de Varan and the bridges over the Sallanches river, that the viewpoint is hereabouts, a little further away from the town than the chapel of the immaculate conception, so as to bring the Chateau des Rubins into play in the centre foreground. Walking back and forth on my recent visit, it became frustratingly clear that that all the land in this area, between the Route de Lavaud and the valley, has been appropriated for private housing and Turner’s view lost to public perusal. So if you happen to be the proprietor of the following view, I would be delighted to hear from you. All the more so if you might be prepared to admit me to take a photograph!

J.M.W.Turner The Arve Valley, with the Aiguille de Varan from above Sallanches, 1836 Pencil and scratching-out on grey paper, faded to a pinkish tone, 238 x 312 mm ‘Miscellanous: Black and White’, Tate Britain, London, TB CCCXLII 76 From the left scarp of the torrent de Sallanches, a little way further up the Route de Lavaud from the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception, so as to bring  the Chateau des Rubins and the Church of St Jacques more in line, and excluding Mont Blanc to the right. The area  today is enclosed by private houses.  Image courtesy of Tate; to see the original image in the online catalogue of the Turner Bequest click on the following link, then press your browser’s ‘back’ button to return to this page: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/turner-sallenche-d34278
J.M.W.Turner
The Arve Valley, with the Aiguille de Varan from above Sallanches, 1836
Pencil and scratching-out on grey paper, faded to a pinkish tone, 238 x 312 mm
‘Miscellanous: Black and White’, Tate Britain, London, TB CCCXLII 76
From the left scarp of the torrent de Sallanches, a little way further up the Route de Lavaud from the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception, so as to bring the Chateau des Rubins and the Church of St Jacques more in line, and excluding Mont Blanc to the right. The area today is enclosed by private houses.
Image courtesy of Tate; to see the original image in the online catalogue of the Turner Bequest click on the following link, then press your browser’s ‘back’ button to return to this page:
http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/turner-sallenche-d34278

The last pencil sketch is very close to the watercolour. The relationship of the placement and form of the church, the specific indications of the distant mountains, the slopes falling from the left foreground and the suggestion of the road in the middle distance running diagonally to St Martin, are sufficient in my eyes to make certain the identification of Sallanches.

Click on any image to open gallery and captions:

Turner’s 1836 sketches at Chambery offer no such comparison. Warrell’s argument is more derived from a stylistic affinity with a watercolour sketch from the end of the tour which unmistakably does show Chambery.

Click on image to open gallery and captions:

The stylistic relation is, indeed close, and Warrell’s argument charts a line of development of Turner’s watercolour sketching style during the tour that culminates in these two subjects. In a nutshell: Chambery is Turner’s last major subject of the tour, so his Chambery sketch is the tour’s culminating point. The Sallanches is in the same style, so it must also be of Chambery. The topography of Sallanches is, however, I firmly believe, completely solid. Some other explanation for the stylistic relation must be sought.

At this point it might be worth amplifying the context. One of my principal interests in the tour of 1836 is that it is certain that Turner sketched in watercolour direct from nature. Several modern scholars have tended to question this practice in relation to other tours (principally in Germany and France) and it has become something of a crusade for me to put him on the spot with colours in hand wherever I can. 1836 is especially important to me for in this case we can be certain about his practice. He had a travelling companion, H.A.J.Munro of Novar, and from him we have direct testimony of Turner colouring from nature. Munro remembered, for example; ‘colours coming out’ once they reached Switzerland. Their first port of call in Switzerland was Geneva, and thereafter Turner seems to have sketched in colours regularly. Munro’s testimony also informed the account given by Walter Thornbury in his first full-length biography of Turner. Form that we discover that sketching in colours could be a frustrating business, and it is worth quoting Thornbury’s account at length:

Mr Munro found that Turner enjoyed himself in his way – a sort of honest Diogenes way. He disliked teasing questions as to how he got this or that colour. On one occasion in the Aosta valley, Turner was very dissatisfied with a sketch. He altered and sponged until the drawing had got a white greenness about it which was not pleasant. He got quite fretful about this, and began to abuse colour-sketching, saying, “I could have done twice as much with the pencil.”

His first enquiry in the morning, when they started to sketch, was always, “have you got the sponge?” because it was with the sponge he obtained many of his misty and aerial effects.

He never rhapsodised about scenery, but set hard at work at some distance from Mr Munro, silent, concentrated (and generally a good deal higher). So as to obtain more distance and more of a bird’s-eye view. He took quick sketches, and then finished them afterwards quietly (by the help of his tremendous memory) at the inn. He had a horror of what Wilson called “being too mappy.” If you bore with his way, it was easy to get on very pleasantly with him: indeed there was a sort of half-resolution come to that Turner and Mr Munro should visit the East together.

Turner used no maul-stick, his touch was sure and decisive; his materials were of the rudest: brushes worn away to single hairs, and now trebly as valuable as when new. Turner’s way of showing a kindness was peculiar; he seemed to put on a certain roughness, to conceal his real feelings. One day (I believe it was near Sallanche) he found Mr Munro (who, bye-the-bye, is an artist himself of most refined taste) in some difficulty with a sketch. He did not appear to notice it, but growlingly took up a new drawing-pad that was lying near (the paper he used was of a rough kind, and generally wrinkled in the most uncomfortable way by repeated washes), and off he went to “see what he could do with it.” He returned in about two hours with the paper squared into four sketches, each in a different state of completion. This was evidently his rough, kind, way of showing an amateur friend the way of pushing forward a sketch. These sketches I have seen, and to me they seem invaluable. There are first rough pencilling loops for trees, and lines marking the horizon and chief masses. Then come brown dabs of marking-out colour, then washes for sky and water, till in the last sketch sapphire hills and touches of heaven seem breaking through the chaos, and every inch of colour is radiant with knowledge and beauty.

The account tells us that Turner frequently started sketches on the spot and worked on them afterwards at the inn. It is possible that the watercolours of Sallanches and Chambery were worked on together, even side by side, but that would not deny their separate plein-air origins. The account further tells us that Turner persevered with colour despite his sometimes becoming frustrated with it. This might prompt us to consider what he could achieve with colour that could not be done with the pencil. The answer is effect. Pencil can record form and detail, but the circumstantial phenomena of light, colour and atmosphere require colour. And every one of Turner’s 1836 watercolour sketches is based in its own particular phenomenal occasion. In this case the Aiguille de Varan is north-east of Sallanches, so the sun rises behind it in midsummer. We do not know the specific dates when Turner was at Sallanches in 1836, but he generally made his continental tours between July and September. He would have been about three weeks into his tour, so we can surmise the end of July or early August. At that time the sun rises over the right shoulder of the Aiguille.

Google Earth visualisation of midsummer sunrise on the Aiguille de Varan
Google Earth visualisation of midsummer sunrise on the Aiguille de Varan

That chimes with the effect here, with the church backlit and the right part of the mountain bleached out by the light. Having explored the area thoroughly in his pencil sketches, he knew exactly where the best compositions were to be had, and rising early as was his routine habit, was ready to observe the morning clouds over the peak filling with light and dissolving. This rather argues against the drawings being made together. It seems more likely that at the age of sixty-one, the greatest ever painter in watercolour had a wide repertoire of styles and approaches at his disposal, and applied them as his subject or creative agenda warranted.

And yet the effect is not merely naturalistic. Munro told Thornbury that Turner wanted to avoid ‘being too mappy’. He was an artist, after all, and he wanted to represent more than matter-of-fact topography and effect. So although he took care to understand the facts (and this harder than most would assume) his proper work was to see past that to the sublime; that which resides beyond ordinary apprehension.

I am reminded of a distant but still clear experience in everyday apprehension. Back in the late 1980s when teaching Fine Art at Bretton Hall College, we used to take the students every Spring to Anglesey. It was a pleasure to work alongside the painter David Walker Barker, who, apart from having all the technical bravura of Turner, also has a similar sense of the sublime and an impressive knowledge of geology. He told me about the rocks of Ynys Llanddwyn at the south west tip of the island. Right at the end of the peninsula, where there is a little harbour and old light-tower overlooking the hills of Snowdonia across the Menai Straits, the rocks are like God’s plasticine. Slabs of green with red eyelets, blue-grey veined through with carmine, purples and green flecked with ruby. This seemed a splendid place to take the students drawing and so with big billing I led them on the two-mile trek across Newborough Sands and onto the end of the peninsula. ‘Here we are,’ I eventually announced – ‘look around and see what you can find.’ Ten minutes later a circle of unimpressed faces informed me that the rocks were in fact all grey. And so they were, as lumpen and dull as rocks might ordinarily be. It was a decent breezy day so it was worth setting them to draw in any case. After half an hour we started to see it: A tint in a pebble; a hue in a vein spreading across an outcrop. After an hour we did not have colour enough and by the end of the day we had used every stick and tube and our sketchbooks were like an India spice stall.

So what happened? The rocks did not change, but what we saw initially as grey and dull we later really saw as a riot of colour. Technically our minds attuned themselves to the subject, and our perception recalibrated itself. Such is the product of considered attention, and it becomes habitual in those that practice it regularly. So produce that, if you will, to the practice of Turner, which by 1836 had been sensitised daily over a period of fifty years. We can see the effect in his watercolour sketch of Sallanches. As Thornbury said of one of the drawings in this series, and he might well have been talking about this very drawing: ‘sapphire hills and touches of heaven seen breaking through the chaos, and every inch of colour is radiant with knowledge and beauty.’

Sallanches detail 2

Other drawings by Turner in the Sallanches area [and elsewhere]

To complete the references for the reader this gallery reproduces a few sketches of St Martin not discussed in detail in the main text. It also reproduces one sketch currently catalogued by the Tate as Sallanches, but which actually shows a different site altogether.

It worth remarking of the pencil sketches particularly, that they are rather more conventional in their approach to the topography than those discussed in the main text. That at the Huntington Library seems comparatively clichéd, and that at the Fitzwilliam, positively populist. The drawings in the main text seem much more driven and striving. The explanation may be as simple as those in the main text belong to Turner’s private campaign, but the two pencils here were made for a public, in the person of Turner’s travelling companion H.A.J.Munro of Novar. As we have already read, Turner inevitably found himself drawn into teaching and demonstration. The pencils were probably made for his benefit, and it is not impossible that Munro was their original owner.

Click on any image to open the image and captions in a gallery format.

Ruskin and the Chateau de Rubins, Sallanches, 1860

Called ‘A Building and a Tower in the Alps’ when exhibited at Agnew’s in 2003, and identified by myself as the Chateau des Rubins at Sallanches on a site visit of 9 March 2005. The identification was published by Sotheby’s when the watercolour was sold in 2008.

The high colour and the vignetted area of attention is very distinctive. When the watercolour was exhibited at Agnew’s in 2003 the catalogue likened this drawing to studies that Ruskin made in Fribourg c.1856, The closest comparison in spirit, style and tight concentration of scope is a study of the Glacier de Bois, Chamonix, at the Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester, which is dated 1860.

Sallanches and St Martin were key sites for John Ruskin. He was particularly fond of the old Hotel du Mont Blanc at St Martin and on a late visit in 1882 even considered buying it. He generally stopped at the old inn or at the Bellevue in Sallanches, and particularly enjoyed walking on the hills above the town. He visited to town something like a dozen times from his first in 1833 to the last in 1888. As his diaries record, on 10 June 1849 whilst walking up the hill towards St Gervais he had a formative revelation. He found himself crushed by too wide a panorama. He did not have the mental scope of Turner and thenceforth resolved to proceed by small steps and a narrow compass. This watercolour is a perfect instance of how powerful his refocused vision could be. The subject reflects Ruskin’s interest in the language of architecture, here exploring how the architectural elements appear to take their nature from the masses of rock above. Ruskin draws that sharply into consideration by making the eye switch suddenly from foreground to distance to find the subsidiary, but infinitely grander mass of the mountain behind, with its own lesser and supporting elements holding up the main act, a little like a fairground human pyramid. If the opportunity arose it would be interesting to make a thorough survey of all of Ruskin’s subjects in the area.

Ruskin’s exact view point is on the left bank of the Torrent de Sallanches, a short way above the Chateau des Rubins. It was possible to identify and stand upon the exact spot when I visited in March 2015, but the view was somewhat obscured by twigs and branches.

AND FINALLY…

SALLANCHES, March 2015. Click on any image to open in gallery.

John Atkinson Grimshaw: The Fields of Headingley

This article represents a diversion for SublimeSites, away from its usual focus on Turner, Cotman and Ruskin, to an artist who may be less familiar to readers, but is a long-held interest of mine. John Atkinson Grimshaw (1836-1893) was a Leeds- born artist, who practiced most of his career in Leeds and who by any standard ought to be ranked as one of the major artists of the later nineteenth century. It can be claimed that his paintings almost single-handedly define the image of the Victorian city and its suburbs. He certainly defines high Victorian Leeds and its leafy-stone-walled suburbs and parks. This may be the beginning of a series of explorations of Grimshaw’s Leeds, but for the present I want to concentrate on one picture in particular, a watercolour called ‘Leeds from Woodhouse Ridge’, painted in 1868 and bought by Leeds City Art Gallery in 2013 with the assistance of the Leeds Art Fund. This was the pretext for several excursions along Woodhouse Ridge, Meanwood Valley and around the Victorian streets of Headingley as spring began to suggest itself in January and February 2015.

John Atkinson Grimshaw (1836-1897) Leeds from Woodhouse Ridge, 1868 Pencil and watercolour, 10 ½ x 17 ½ ins, 273 x 445 mm Leeds City Art Gallery, bought with the assistance of the Leeds Art Fund, 2013. Photo courtesy of Leeds Museums and Art Galleries Click on image to view at full size.
John Atkinson Grimshaw (1836-1897)
Leeds from Woodhouse Ridge, 1868
Pencil and watercolour, 10 ½ x 17 ½ ins, 273 x 445 mm
Leeds City Art Gallery, bought with the assistance of the Leeds Art Fund, 2013.
Photo courtesy of Leeds Museums and Art Galleries
Click on image to view at full size.
St Chad’s Headingley from Sugarwell Hill, Meanwood Valley. Photograph by David Hill, taken 10 February 2015, 15.36 Taken on the same line of sight as Grimshaw’s watercolour, but from further back. Grimshaw’s exact viewpoint can be made out to the left, where Woodhouse Ridge turns away towards Headingley. Click on image to view at full size.
St Chad’s Headingley from Sugarwell Hill, Meanwood Valley.
Photograph by David Hill, taken 10 February 2015, 15.36
Taken on the same line of sight as Grimshaw’s watercolour, but from further back. Grimshaw’s exact viewpoint can be made out to the left, where Woodhouse Ridge turns away towards Headingley.
Click on image to view at full size.

It took a little while to establish Grimshaw’s exact viewpoint. When the watercolour was shown (as no.20) in the Atkinson Grimshaw exhibition at Leeds City Art Gallery in 1980, Alex Robertson wrote ‘The view is painted from Batty’s Wood, Woodhouse Ridge, Leeds, looking towards St Chad’s Church, Far Headingley. This spot is a few minutes’ walk from the Grimshaw house, The Villas in Cliff Road.’ Woodhouse Ridge is the north-facing slope of Meanwood Valley rising gradually from Sheepscar to the east towards Headingley in the west. The summit of the ridge falls away southwards towards the Otley Road. The area was still relatively open when the 1851 Ordnance survey was published, but became a major building site soon after then. It was developed first with genteel, and sometimes grand houses, and afterwards filled in with much more dense terraces. It survives full of University residences, Professorial dwellings and student lets, a typical leafy high Victorian Leeds residential area. In 1866 Atkinson Grimshaw himself occupied a recently built semi-detached house in Cliff Road, which runs up from Otley Road to Woodhouse Ridge, not far beyond the Hyde Park pub. It was a step-up to suburban living for him. He was beginning to establish himself as a painter, and could afford to move to a leafy neighbourhood.

Grimshaw’s House, The Villas, no.56 Cliff Road, Hyde Park, Leeds Photograph by David Hill, taken 3 February 2015, 16.01. Grimshaw moved to this recently built semi-detached house in 1866 and lived there with his family until 1870. During this time he developed his career as a painter, and could afford to live in the leafy suburbs. He painted the watercolour of Leeds from Woodhouse Ridge in 1868 while he was living there. He could walk onto the ridge at the top of his street, and the viewpoint was a few minutes’ walk away through the woods.
Grimshaw’s House, The Villas, no.56 Cliff Road, Hyde Park, Leeds
Photograph by David Hill, taken 3 February 2015, 16.01.
Grimshaw moved to this recently built semi-detached house in 1866 and lived there with his family until 1870. During this time he developed his career as a painter, and could afford to live in the leafy suburbs. He painted the watercolour of Leeds from Woodhouse Ridge in 1868 while he was living there. He could walk onto the ridge at the top of his street, and the viewpoint was a few minutes’ walk away through the woods.
Grimshaw’s Headingley Google Earth Satellite View, marking St Chad’s, Woodhouse Ridge, Grimshaw’s Cliff Road House and the University of Leeds Click on image to at view full size.
Grimshaw’s Headingley
Google Earth Satellite View, marking St Chad’s, Woodhouse Ridge, Grimshaw’s Cliff Road House and the University of Leeds
Click on image to at view full size.
Woodhouse Ridge: Ordnance Survey of 1851 Neither Cliff Road nor Grimshaw’s House had yet been built. The site is the second field to the right of Grosvenor Terrace. Grimshaw’s viewpoint is at the top left of the map. Click on image to at view full size.
Woodhouse Ridge: Ordnance Survey of 1851
Neither Cliff Road nor Grimshaw’s House had yet been built. The site is the second field to the right of Grosvenor Terrace. Grimshaw’s viewpoint is at the top left of the map.
Click on image to at view full size.

Batty’s Wood is the westernmost stretch of Woodhouse Ridge, and is as Alex Robertson said, only a few minutes’ walk from Grimshaw’s house in Cliff Road. Just beyond Batty’s Wood the trees give way to a stretch of open meadow. Today this is colloquially known as ‘Cardboard Hill’ on the grounds that successive generations of children (and students) have thrown themselves down it on cardboard sledges. It is here, rather than in Batty’s Wood that Grimshaw’s view to St Chad’s opens up, or, rather would open up if the terraces at the end of Wood Lane and of Woodland Park Road did not now impede the view. Despite that we can work from the angles of view St Chad’s and the various buildings in view in the watercolour to be sure that the exact viewpoint is on Ridge Terrace above Cardboard Hill, just at the point where it curves round into Wood Lane. Despite the occlusion of St Chad’s the site is still recognisable; the open flower-filled meadow still has the character that Grimshaw records of it in his watercolour.

‘Cardboard Hill’ from Ridge Terrace, Headingley Photograph by David Hill, taken 3 February 2015, 11.27 Looking along Ridge Terrace towards Wood Lane, at the north-western end of Woodhouse Ridge. The grassy slopes are called ‘Cardboard Hill’ recalling their use for cardboard sledging. Grimshaw’s view is obscured by the houses at the end of Wood Lane, but the flower meadows remember the character that Grimshaw records in his watercolour. Click on image to view at full size.
‘Cardboard Hill’ from Ridge Terrace, Headingley
Photograph by David Hill, taken 3 February 2015, 11.27
Looking along Ridge Terrace towards Wood Lane, at the north-western end of Woodhouse Ridge. The grassy slopes are called ‘Cardboard Hill’ recalling their use for cardboard sledging. Grimshaw’s view is obscured by the houses at the end of Wood Lane, but the flower meadows remember the character that Grimshaw records in his watercolour.
Click on image to view at full size.
Cardboard Hill History Board Photograph by David Hill taken 3 February 2015, 11.20 Click on image to view at full size.
Cardboard Hill History Board
Photograph by David Hill taken 3 February 2015, 11.20
Click on image to view at full size.

In order to give the sense of the location and the view to St Chad’s, I photographed the site from further back on the same line of sight, on the opposite side of Meanwood valley. In my photograph Grimshaw’s exact viewpoint can be seen to the left, where the wooded slopes of Woodhouse Ridge turn away from us towards Headingley.

John Atkinson Grimshaw (1836-1897) Leeds from Woodhouse Ridge, 1868 Pencil and watercolour, 10 ½ x 17 ½ ins, 273 x 445 mm Leeds City Art Gallery, bought with the assistance of the Leeds Art Fund, 2013. Photo courtesy of Leeds Museums and Art Galleries Click on image to view at full size.
John Atkinson Grimshaw (1836-1897)
Leeds from Woodhouse Ridge, 1868
Pencil and watercolour, 10 ½ x 17 ½ ins, 273 x 445 mm
Leeds City Art Gallery, bought with the assistance of the Leeds Art Fund, 2013.
Photo courtesy of Leeds Museums and Art Galleries
Click on image to view at full size.
Google Earth Satellite image of Grove Lane area Showing the field of view of Grimshaw’s watercolour. Click on image to view at full size.
Google Earth Satellite image of Grove Lane area
Showing the field of view of Grimshaw’s watercolour.
Click on image to view at full size.

Grimshaw’s viewpoint is a little further round towards Headingley than I had originally thought. My first surmise was that the valley before us must be Meanwood valley, with various old mills and cottages dotted around on its flanks. In fact Meanwood valley is out of the frame to the right and we are looking across the line of Grove Lane. For anyone interested in following this up on a map or Google Earth, or (even better) on the ground, the left hand edge of the composition more-or-less looks down the line of Wood Lane. Having finally established my bearings, it became possible to start thinking about what might be discovered about the buildings that Grimshaw records. This turned out to be more productive than I could have predicted, and might furnish the interested researcher numerous aspects for further enquiry.

Almost every building in the field of view appears to survives to this day and may be identified. Furthermore, every single one was almost brand new when Grimshaw painted this in 1868. If he had sat here twenty years earlier when it was mapped by the Ordnance Survey, he would have seen nothing but fields.

Headingley Moor: Ordnance Survey 1851 These commons were subject to enclosure 1829-34. At the time of the survey none of the buildings shown by Grimshaw were present. Following a series of land auctions in 1851 and 1852, the area became dotted with bourgeois residences and good stone terraces to rent. Click on image to view at full size.
Headingley Moor: Ordnance Survey 1851
These commons were subject to enclosure 1829-34. At the time of the survey none of the buildings shown by Grimshaw were present. Following a series of land auctions in 1851 and 1852, the area became dotted with bourgeois residences and good stone terraces to rent.
Click on image to view at full size.

The far side of Grove Lane was common land known as Headingley Moor, and almost completely undeveloped before the early 1830s. At that point the absentee landlord the Earl of Cardigan got into cahoots with the other smaller freeholders to deprive the residents of Headingley of their commons. Enclosure was a process that had gathered momentum throughout the eighteenth century. In the name of ‘progress’ and ‘improvement’, Parliament allowed the freeholders of a parish to take ownership of the commons and divide them up amongst themselves. Thus cottagers were deprived of independent sustenance (an allotment, a little grazing, foraging for fuel, hunting for rabbits etc) and became entirely dependent on wage labour. It’s a long and terrible story, and a through indictment of Parliament’s siding with the interests of Capital. If you have never thought about this, you should read J L Hammond and Barbara Hammond, The Village Labourer. This was first published in 1911, but there is a more recent (1978) edition. If everyone were to read this between now and May, the result of the General Election might be dramatically skewed.

The story of the enclosure of Headingly Commons is told by Eveleigh Bradford in her book Headingley: ‘This Pleasant Rural Village’, published in 2008. Briefly, Cardigan petitioned Parliament for an act in 1829, and the final award of the commons to the landowners was made in 1834. The land was divided up and fenced off, and a few plots at Far Headingley – mostly on the Otley Road around the junction with Weetwood Lane – were built upon with a new village of artisanal houses and services. The 1851 Ordnance Survey map shows no new building on the moor except around Far Headingley village but in the year of its publication there was a series of sales of plots for building development and by the time of Grimshaw’s watercolour of 1868 the commons were dotted over with stone-built bourgeois houses with large gardens and several terraces of good solid houses for rent. All of them can be visited in a single perambulation.

St Chad’s Church, Headingley Photograph by David Hill, taken 3 February 2015, 11.53 St Chad’s was consecrated in January 1868, so was brand new when Grimshaw painted his watercolour. Click on image to view at full size.
St Chad’s Church, Headingley
Photograph by David Hill, taken 3 February 2015, 11.53
St Chad’s was concecrated in January 1868, so was brand new when Grimshaw painted his watercolour.
Click on image to view at full size.
St Chad’s History Board Photograph by David Hill, taken 3 February 2015, 12.12. Click on image to view at full size.
St Chad’s History Board
Photograph by David Hill, taken 3 February 2015, 12.12.
Click on image to view at full size.

The most conspicuous object in the picture, the spire of St Chad’s Church is also one of the newest. It rather surprised me to discover that the church was only consecrated in January 1868. So when Grimshaw painted the watercolour, it must have been in the certain consciousness that the landscape had been impressed with a millennial mark of occupation, community and optimism. St Chad’s is a large church. It could easily accommodate a congregation of several hundred. At the time this must have been rather more than could be mustered. It was intended to cater for, even provoke, a significant migration into its parish. My first thought on seeing the watercolour was that it was another picture of settled harmonious establishment; the kind of Arcadian idyll that was the stock-in-trade of the ordinary eighteenth and early nineteenth century landscape artist. It is quite the reverse as it turned out; Grimshaw was taking the appearance of traditional landscape but using it to reveal instead a dynamically evolving modernity.

The near side of Grove Lane, in the area of Wood Lane and Alma Road was developed with large architect-designed houses for wealthy families moving out of central Leeds to the more salubrious air of Headingley. The most prominent in Grimshaw’s view can be identified as Ashfield House, built about 1860 and attributed to the architect of Leeds Town Hall, Cuthbert Brodick. Moving left, we can see Wheatfield Lodge built about 1855 and possibly also by Brodick, and finally furthest right, Moorfield House built 1855-6 for William Glover Joy, a manufacturer of seed oil, who became Lord Mayor of Leeds the year after the watercolour was painted. The house names seem to be derived from the original field names on which they were built –  at least ‘Wheat Field’ appears on the 1711 survey of Cardigan Lands reproduced in Bradford 2008.

John Atkinson Grimshaw Leeds from Woodhouse Ridge, 1868 (detail of Ashfield House, centre) Leeds City Art Gallery Photograph courtesy of Leeds City Art Gallery. Click on image to enlarge.
John Atkinson Grimshaw
Leeds from Woodhouse Ridge, 1868 (detail of Ashfield House, centre)
Leeds City Art Gallery
Photograph courtesy of Leeds City Art Gallery.
Click on image to enlarge.
Ashfield House Photograph by David Hill, taken 6 February 2015, 14.56 Ashfield stands at the junction of Alma Road and Grove Road. It was built as a private house about 1860 and was possibly designed by Cuthbert Brodrick, the architect of Leeds Town Hall. It is now divided into flats. English Heritage listing: http://list.english-heritage.org.uk/resultsingle.aspx?uid=1256100 Click on image to enlarge.
Ashfield House
Photograph by David Hill, taken 6 February 2015, 14.56
Ashfield stands at the junction of Alma Road and Grove Road. It was built as a private house about 1860 and was possibly designed by Cuthbert Brodrick, the architect of Leeds Town Hall. It is now divided into flats.
English Heritage listing: http://list.english-heritage.org.uk/resultsingle.aspx?uid=1256100
Click on image to enlarge.
John Atkinson Grimshaw Leeds from Woodhouse Ridge, 1868 (detail of Wheatfield Lodge, centre) Leeds City Art Gallery Photograph courtesy of Leeds City Art Gallery. Click on image to enlarge.
John Atkinson Grimshaw
Leeds from Woodhouse Ridge, 1868 (detail of Wheatfield Lodge, centre)
Leeds City Art Gallery
Photograph courtesy of Leeds City Art Gallery.
Click on image to enlarge.
Wheatfield Lodge from the south-east. Photograph by David Hill taken 6 February 2015 14.59 Wheatfield Lodge was built about 1855, on the plot on the west side of Grove Road between Wood Lane and Alma Road. It is diagonally opposite Ashfield, across Grove Road. It was greatly extended about 1900, but the south front of the original house, consisting of the gable and square tower seen in this photograph, and in the Grimshaw watercolour, bears some resemblance in detail to Ashfield, and may be by the same architect. Wheatfields today serves as a very well-known hospice. English Heritage listing: http://list.english-heritage.org.uk/resultsingle.aspx?uid=1255681 Click on image to enlarge.
Wheatfield Lodge from the south-east.
Photograph by David Hill taken 6 February 2015 14.59
Wheatfield Lodge was built about 1855, on the plot on the west side of Grove Road between Wood Lane and Alma Road. It is diagonally opposite Ashfield, across Grove Road. It was greatly extended about 1900, but the south front of the original house, consisting of the gable and square tower seen in this photograph, and in the Grimshaw watercolour, bears some resemblance in detail to Ashfield, and may be by the same architect. Wheatfields today serves as a very well-known hospice.
English Heritage listing: http://list.english-heritage.org.uk/resultsingle.aspx?uid=1255681
Click on image to enlarge.
John Atkinson Grimshaw Leeds from Woodhouse Ridge, 1868 (detail of Moorfield House, centre – with Wheatfield Lodge to the right) Leeds City Art Gallery Photograph courtesy of Leeds City Art Gallery. Click on image to enlarge.
John Atkinson Grimshaw
Leeds from Woodhouse Ridge, 1868 (detail of Moorfield House, centre – with Wheatfield Lodge to the right)
Leeds City Art Gallery
Photograph courtesy of Leeds City Art Gallery.
Click on image to enlarge.
Moorfield House, Alma Road, Headingley Photograph by David Hill taken 6 February 2015, 15.12. Moorfield House was built 1855-6 for William Glover Joy, who became Lord Mayor of Leeds in 1869. Its principal feature is the large octagonal tower at the right, which can be made out in Grimshaw’s watercolour. The house is now offices. English Heritage listing: http://www.imagesofengland.org.uk/Details/Default.aspx?id=464803 Click on image to enlarge.
Moorfield House, Alma Road, Headingley
Photograph by David Hill taken 6 February 2015, 15.12.
Moorfield House was built 1855-6 for William Glover Joy, who became Lord Mayor of Leeds in 1869. Its principal feature is the large octagonal tower at the right, which can be made out in Grimshaw’s watercolour. The house is now offices.
English Heritage listing: http://www.imagesofengland.org.uk/Details/Default.aspx?id=464803
Click on image to enlarge.

On the Far Headingley side of Grove Lane developers focused on more middle-class housing. The overall history of suburban development in north Leeds is explored in detail in a 1977 University of Leeds Ph.D thesis by Colin Treen, ‘Building and Estate Development in the Northern Out-Townships of Leeds, 1781-1914’, which is available online at http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/1399/1/uk_bl_ethos_528443.pdf. His chapter 5 ‘Building and Estate Development, 1847-1870’, particularly 5.4 ‘New Building Estates of the 1860s’, gives specific information and sources for the development of Headingley Commons. The broad picture is that developers in the area concentrated mainly on building for rental. There were local quarries and established masons took on a variety of different projects, but the majority were terraces of decent stone-built houses, varying between double-fronted aspirational properties that rented for about £12 a year and more modest, but still solidly stone-built, properties renting for about £8 a year. It is remarkable that the larger houses would fetch well over half a million in today’s market, and rent for up to £15,000 a year. Most of the houses shown by Grimshaw are identifiable today: The nearest to the right is Claremount, with a substantial pair of gabled semi-detatched houses – 30/28 Grove Road immediately behind on the upslope. Behind Claremount is a line of terraces on Monk Bridge Road. There are in fact three separate terraces, but Grimshaw’s drawing does not clearly distinguish between them. Below that to the left, and at right angles to Claremount, running down the slope towards Grove Lane, is Woodbine Terrace. This was built in three phases, and considerably extended, but only the first phase is shown here. Thereafter to the left Grimshaw’s drawing is a little hard to read. Beyond Woodbine Terrace is Balmoral Terrace, and beyond this group is Albert Grove, just off Moor Road, but there remains some uncertainty about their identification with the buildings shown in the watercolour. Finally, at the right, above 30-28 Grove Road on this line of sight is what appears to be a significant detached villa. This might be identifiable as Sandfield House, recently converted into apartments, but whose history remains to be established. There is the potential for a much more detailed chronology of the construction sequence – and the naming of the terraces, than I have been able to accomplish here. Treen 1977 has some specific detail (especially see page 211 ff.) and Eveleigh Bradford has written in detail on Woodbine Terrace in her ‘A Respectable Terrace – The Story of Woodbine Terrace’, (2000), but much more might be discoverable. Suffice it to say that the early development is easy to distinguish, for it is all of stone. The later developments, with the exception of Oakfield Terrace (started 1871) favour brick. As development progresses towards the end of the nineteenth century, and the first Leeds tram line was brought to Headingley the market was for more affordable properties, and the building economy was geared up almost exclusively for brick. Grimshaw records the area just as the initial phase of stone building came to its climax, and just before the infilling with brick began.

John Atkinson Grimshaw Leeds from Woodhouse Ridge, 1868 (detail of Terraces beyond Grove Lane) Leeds City Art Gallery Photograph courtesy of Leeds City Art Gallery. Marked with identifiable developments. There is considerable room for further research here; especially to establish a detailed chronology of development in this area, and the original names of properties, occupiers, builders etc. Click on image to enlarge
John Atkinson Grimshaw
Leeds from Woodhouse Ridge, 1868 (detail of Terraces beyond Grove Lane)
Leeds City Art Gallery
Photograph courtesy of Leeds City Art Gallery.
Marked with identifiable developments. There is considerable room for further research here; especially to establish a detailed chronology of development in this area, and the original names of properties, occupiers, builders etc.
Click on image to enlarge
Google Earth Aerial View: TheTerraces of Far Headingley The right edge of Grimshaw’s field of View is given in red at the right Click on image to enlarge.
Google Earth Aerial View: TheTerraces of Far Headingley
The right edge of Grimshaw’s field of View is given in red at the right
Click on image to enlarge.
30/28 Grove Road Photograph by David Hill taken 10 February 2015, 16.05. I have managed to establish very little about this splendidly gabled pair of semi-detached houses.  No.28 named ‘Rupert Lodge’ on its gatepost is now Treetops Nursery, no.30 named ‘Milton Lodge’ is a private house. The building is clearly identifiable in Grimshaw’s watercolour, with its paired gables facing north, south east and west. Grimshaw’s angle of view is from the south east, with no.28 in front. This photograph is taken from the opposite angle with no.30 in front, to give the corresponding aspect of a symmetrical building. There is an almost identical pair of houses immediately to the north-east, with its gateways around the corner in Monk Bridge Road. Click on image to enlarge.
30/28 Grove Road
Photograph by David Hill taken 10 February 2015, 16.05.
I have managed to establish very little about this splendidly gabled pair of semi-detached houses. No.28 named ‘Rupert Lodge’ on its gatepost is now Treetops Nursery, no.30 named ‘Milton Lodge’ is a private house. The building is clearly identifiable in Grimshaw’s watercolour, with its paired gables facing north, south east and west. Grimshaw’s angle of view is from the south east, with no.28 in front. This photograph is taken from the opposite angle with no.30 in front, to give the corresponding aspect of a symmetrical building. There is an almost identical pair of houses immediately to the north-east, with its gateways around the corner in Monk Bridge Road.
Click on image to enlarge.
Monk Bridge Road Terraces Photograph by David Hill, taken 10 February 2015, 16.27 Grimshaw seems to show this as one continuous development, but there are in fact three separate terraces. That to the east is of three houses; the central block is of four, and the westernmost of two. The centre block appears to have been called ‘Marlborough Terrace’ from the now weathered name on one gatepost. Another was called ‘St George’s Terrace’. These are some of the most aspirational of the terraces in this area and were built by George Vevers in the later 1850s. The central block is listed, cf http://www.britishlistedbuildings.co.uk/en-466076-6-12-monk-bridge-road- Click on image to enlarge.
Monk Bridge Road Terraces
Photograph by David Hill, taken 10 February 2015, 16.27
Grimshaw seems to show this as one continuous development, but there are in fact three separate terraces. That to the east is of three houses; the central block is of four, and the westernmost of two. The centre block appears to have been called ‘Marlborough Terrace’ from the now weathered name on one gatepost. Another was called ‘St George’s Terrace’. These are some of the most aspirational of the terraces in this area and were built by George Vevers in the later 1850s. The central block is listed, cf
http://www.britishlistedbuildings.co.uk/en-466076-6-12-monk-bridge-road-
Click on image to enlarge.
Woodbine Terrace Photograph by David Hill, taken 10 February 2015, 16.40 Grimshaw shows this clearly running at right angles to most of the other terraces. The first phase was built 1867-70 by John Wood, a local builder, so work must have been continuing at the time Grimshaw made his watercolour in 1868.  For English Heritage listing see: http://www.britishlistedbuildings.co.uk/en-488218-1-14-woodbine-terrace-off-grove-lane- Rather nicely, and perhaps not altogether co-incidentally Grimshaw’s daughter, Elaine, came to live at 11 Woodbine Terrace. The photographic archive Leodis has images of Elaine and her family in the garden. Cf http://www.leodis.org/searchResults.aspx?LOCID=9999&DECADE=0&YEAR=&KEYWORDS=John%20Atkinson%20Grimshaw&KEYWORDS2=&KEYWORDS3=&ANDOR2=&ANDOR3=&RECSPAGE=5&VIEW=1&CURRPAGE=1 Click on image to enlarge.
Woodbine Terrace
Photograph by David Hill, taken 10 February 2015, 16.40
Grimshaw shows this clearly running at right angles to most of the other terraces. The first phase was built 1867-70 by John Wood, a local builder, so work must have been continuing at the time Grimshaw made his watercolour in 1868. For English Heritage listing see:
http://www.britishlistedbuildings.co.uk/en-488218-1-14-woodbine-terrace-off-grove-lane-
Rather nicely, and perhaps not altogether co-incidentally Grimshaw’s daughter, Elaine, came to live at 11 Woodbine Terrace. The photographic archive Leodis has images of Elaine and her family in the garden. Cf
http://www.leodis.org/searchResults.aspx?LOCID=9999&DECADE=0&YEAR=&KEYWORDS=John%20Atkinson%20Grimshaw&KEYWORDS2=&KEYWORDS3=&ANDOR2=&ANDOR3=&RECSPAGE=5&VIEW=1&CURRPAGE=1
Click on image to enlarge.
Balmoral Terrace Photograph by David Hill taken 10 February 2015, 16.23. A terrace of three substantial double-fronted houses built by George Vevers c.1857, in suite with his adjacent terraces in Monk Bridge Road. For English Heritage listing see: http://www.britishlistedbuildings.co.uk/en-489770-balmoral-terrace- No.1 was the family home of the Phillips family. Grimwshaw’s daughter Elaine married Edmund Ragland Phillips, who was councillor for Headingley ward 1907-1911. The photographic archive Leodis has photographs of the family and their children at Balmoral Terrace and at their own home at 11 Woodbine Terrace, nearby.  http://www.leodis.org/searchResults.aspx?LOCID=9999&DECADE=0&YEAR=&KEYWORDS=John%20Atkinson%20Grimshaw&KEYWORDS2=&KEYWORDS3=&ANDOR2=&ANDOR3=&RECSPAGE=5&VIEW=1&CURRPAGE=1 Click on image to enlarge.
Balmoral Terrace
Photograph by David Hill taken 10 February 2015, 16.23.
A terrace of three substantial double-fronted houses built by George Vevers c.1857, in suite with his adjacent terraces in Monk Bridge Road. For English Heritage listing see:
http://www.britishlistedbuildings.co.uk/en-489770-balmoral-terrace-
No.1 was the family home of the Phillips family. Grimwshaw’s daughter Elaine married Edmund Ragland Phillips, who was councillor for Headingley ward 1907-1911. The photographic archive Leodis has photographs of the family and their children at Balmoral Terrace and at their own home at 11 Woodbine Terrace, nearby.
http://www.leodis.org/searchResults.aspx?LOCID=9999&DECADE=0&YEAR=&KEYWORDS=John%20Atkinson%20Grimshaw&KEYWORDS2=&KEYWORDS3=&ANDOR2=&ANDOR3=&RECSPAGE=5&VIEW=1&CURRPAGE=1
Click on image to enlarge.
Sandfield House Photograph by David Hill taken 10 February 2015, 16.15. Possibly the house indicated in Grimshaw’s watercolour furthest back at the right. Sandfield House, recently converted to apartments, stands on this exact line of sight, but I have not been able to establish the date of the building and Grimshaw’s detail is too faint to be certain of the identification. Click on image to enlarge.
Sandfield House
Photograph by David Hill taken 10 February 2015, 16.15.
Possibly the house indicated in Grimshaw’s watercolour furthest back at the right. Sandfield House, recently converted to apartments, stands on this exact line of sight, but I have not been able to establish the date of the building and Grimshaw’s detail is too faint to be certain of the identification.
Click on image to enlarge.
John Atkinson Grimshaw Leeds from Woodhouse Ridge, 1868 (detail of paths to the right) Leeds City Art Gallery Photograph courtesy of Leeds City Art Gallery.
John Atkinson Grimshaw
Leeds from Woodhouse Ridge, 1868 (detail of paths to the right)
Leeds City Art Gallery
Photograph courtesy of Leeds City Art Gallery.

Finally it might be worth returning to Grimshaw’s viewpoint to think a little more about Batty’s Wood and Woodhouse Ridge. One feature recorded by the watercolour but not yet discussed is the paths coming together at Batty’s Wood at the right. It is worth remarking that they are a slightly odd lilac colour. The rough paths in this area now are the brown of leaf mould and bare earth. Their colour in Grimshaw suggests that they have been surfaced with stone chippings.

Woodhouse Ridge History Board Photograph by David Hill taken 3 February 2015, 11.01 Click on image to enlarge
Woodhouse Ridge History Board
Photograph by David Hill taken 3 February 2015, 11.01
Click on image to enlarge

This would be in keeping with the maintenance of this area as a public park. In 1876 Woodhouse Ridge was given to the people of Leeds as a recreational space, and Batty’s Wood followed in 1901. This formalised the established recreational use that Grimshaw depicts in his watercolour, and the Ridge acquired a bandstand and terraced pathways on which considerable numbers gathered in pleasant weather. The more generally wooded character of the Ridge today is, ironically, more a symptom of less intensive use rather than more. The might well be a case for clearing and maintaining a few areas, although it is hard to see the Council spending anything on such things while the public continue to pay off the cost of bailing out the bankers in 2008.

Old postcard of Woodhouse Ridge (From Woodhouse Ridge History Board) Click on image to enlarge
Old postcard of Woodhouse Ridge
(From Woodhouse Ridge History Board)
Click on image to enlarge
Woodhouse Ridge Photograph by David Hill, taken 3 February 2015, 15.44 Click on image to enlarge.
Woodhouse Ridge
Photograph by David Hill, taken 3 February 2015, 15.44
Click on image to enlarge.

Grimshaw’s theme is entirely of the new, and of the suburban utopia that was being realised in this area. We are used to thinking of Paris or Chicago as the new centres of modern consciousness, but in truth Leeds was as much in the vanguard of social change as anywhere on earth. It has a claim to be the occasion of the world’s first industrial cityscape in Turner’s watercolour of Leeds in 1816 (see David Hill, Turner and Leeds: Image of Industry, 2008). It was the prototype of urban and suburban development, turning itself into a choking, filthy sump, and a crucible for every social issue and opportunity that a modern industrial conurbation could afford. When Grimshaw set up his easel at the north end of Woodhouse Ridge in 1868, he was engaged in social observation through a process mediated by naturalism and photography. The ladies enjoying their leisure amongst the long grass on this summer’s evening, were asserting a right to chose a modern middle glass indulgence, that of leisure. Grimshaw’s picture is about the pleasure of viewing, and of leisure being the subject of the view. It might be remarked apropos of Leeds as a crucible of modernism, that Grimshaw’s picture is five years earlier than Monet’s Wild Poppies of 1873.

So we might be surprised that Grimshaw’s picture turns out to be rather cutting-edge. Certainly we can say that the high Victorian suburban environments created in Leeds were in quality second to none. Grimshaw’s Leeds is a rather special legacy. Walking through this area this Spring, looking past its temporal passages of untidiness, litter and unkemptness, I could not help but wonder whether the current inhabitants quite sufficiently appreciate what an exceptional place to live this is. Grimshaw’s watercolour records the point at which the fields of Headingley were being first built upon, but with the intention of creating what Grimshaw clearly felt could be the model of new living; the leafy, mossy-walled aspiration of suburban Modernity.

Grimshaw, Leeds St Chad's 1868 detail Theodosia

POSTSCRIPT

Grove Avenue, Headingley Photograph by David Hill taken 6 February 2015, 14.51. Click on image to enlarge
Grove Avenue, Headingley
Photograph by David Hill taken 6 February 2015, 14.51.
Click on image to enlarge