- Museum number
Mont St Michel, Normandy; the mount viewed from shore, in the foreground figures standing with two horses
Watercolour, over graphite
- Production date
Height: 307 millimetres
Width: 530 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- Cotman visited Mont St Michel on each of his three visits to Normandy, in 1817, 1818 and 1820. He went on to produce at least four large watercolours of the mount, all based on a drawing with brown wash dated 1817 (Christie's 8.xi.1994, lot 16); the first of these watercolours, which are essentially variations on the initial view, was painted soon after the first visit and dated 1818 (Harrow School). Besides 1958-7-12-330, the other two versions known are in Manchester Art Gallery (1917.72; dated 1828) and the Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle-upon-Tyne (dated 1829). Of these perhaps only the BM watercolour may have been one of the views of Mont St Michel Cotman exhibited in 1823, 1824 and 1825. In 1823 he showed at the Norwich Society (no.154) 'Mount St Michael, Normandy, on the approach from Pontorson, under the appearance of the Mirage'. A similar phrase appears in the catalogue entry in 1824 (no.95), a work which was 'painted for J. Brightwen Esq', and again at the Society of Painters in Watercolour in 1825 (no.109). Perhaps the reference to the 'mirage' is Cotman's way of describing the manner in which the mount rises directly out of the flat tidal plain around it; certainly, he has chosen a viewpoint with no other hint of land, which makes the appearance of the mount as dramatic as possible. The title indicates that Cotman was concerned not only with simple representation, but with conveying something of the hallucinatory nature of the place as he experienced it.
In his letters of 1817 and 1820, the sight drew from Cotman his most extravagant language. He wrote to Dawson Turner from Avranches on 3 August 1817, the day after leaving the mount, 'I am convinced to set a person from a profound sleep before Mt. St. Michel & he would not believe he was awake, so totally different is it from anything he could conceive. It looks like a gigantic vision; & to take a situation to command the whole you must be at such a distance that the whole appears to rise as one uniform flat mass'. The day he wrote this letter, Cotman had been up very early to make the most of the excursion: '[I] was on y sand before the Mt. at 4 o'c a.m. Sketched two views, was observed, and prevented continuing...The first approach is grand beyond words to express. On a level plain of many leagues rises the rock, in part encompassed with walls & towers - the other parts the native rock is a sufficient guard...Could I say half what I feel of this highly astonishing place you must suppose it was romance, & yet in my opinion, no romance has, or ever could outdo the effect upon the mind' (H.Isherwood Kay, ed., 'John Sell Cotman's letters from Normandy', Walpole Society XIV, 1925-26, pp.107-8). After recounting to his wife the circumstances of his final visit in 1820, he concluded: 'In short no description can equal the solitary grandeur of the awe-striking Mt.St.Michel - I have now seen it in sunshine, twilight, haze - & amid [illegible] a flat purply grey sand - and in all the terrors of a tremendous storm of thunder, lightning, Hail & Rain & wind - with the sea beating at its feet covered with foam' (ibid, XV, 1926-27, p.126). In the watercolours he made of the place, Cotman hardly found it necessary to add greatly to the level of drama with such extreme effects of weather. The scene was etched by Cotman in his 'Architectural Antiquities of Normandy' (1822).
Work listed with Gunn as owner in W.F. Dickes, 'The Norwich School of Painting', [n.d., 1906], p.338.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
1888 Burlington Fine Arts Club, 'Cotman', no.77
1922 Apr-Jul, National Gallery, Millbank (Tate), Cotman Exhibition, cat.117
1959 British Museum
1960 British Museum
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- Owned by John Gunn by 1888. His widow's sale, Christie's 26 April 1912, bt Agnew's, £105; Agnew's Manchester 1912 (5), bt Lloyd 15 November £231 (stock 7704).
UNDER THE TERMS OF THE BEQUEST, NONE OF THE PRINTS OR DRAWINGS BEQUEATHED BY R. W. LLOYD MAY BE LENT OUTSIDE THE BRITISH MUSEUM (Registration Numbers 1958,0712.318 to 3149).
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number