The region of Val d’Aosta lies high in the Italian Alps, just across the border from Mont Blanc in France. The Alps were a constant source of inspiration for J. M. W. Turner, particularly during the period 1840–44, when he returned there every summer to paint. A mountain scene, Val d’Aosta is a strangely disorienting image, with its mysterious veils of swirling cloud. The rich golden brown of the left foreground acts as a kind of launching point from which the viewer attempts to penetrate the drifting mist that hides the mountain pass from view.
The painting surges with a palpable energy that is characteristic of the artist’s late period. Thickly applied impasto is often broken or ‘scumbled’ and the underlying colour glows through, giving depth and richness to the surface. Paint layers are also built up with transparent glazes, to suggest the luminous effect of light seen through dissolving cloud.
It is impossible to say whether this painting is simply a study of atmospheric effects, complete in itself, or a background field of colour and texture awaiting its finishing touches. It was Turner’s practice to send canvases in an incomplete state to London, to the Royal Academy or the British Institution, and then to finish the pictures in a last-minute frenzy. He often used the so-called varnishing day to add vital details to a composition, transforming a mass of colour into a recognizable scene or incident.
Text by Dr Alison Inglis and Jennifer Long from 19th century painting and sculpture in the international collections of the National Gallery of Victoria, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2003, p. 16.