4 December 2013

Landslides in Art Part 20: A cannonade on the Matterhorn 1862

Posted by Dave Petley

This is part 20 of the occasional Landslides in Art series. Part 19 is here.

13_12 Matterhorn 1

The piece I have chosen today is A Cannonade on the Matterhorn, 1862, by Edward Whymper (1840-1911). Whymper was an English mountaineer and author whose crowning glory was to be the first person to successfully climb the Matterhorn.  The successful climb was completed on 14 July 1865 as a party of seven.  Whymper had already made nine unsuccessful attempts.  Unfortunately, on the way back down an inexperienced member of the climbing party, Douglas Hadow, slipped and fell to his death, dragging two others, who also died, with him.

Whymper was also an engraver of illustrations, primarily for books and periodicals. Whymper published an account of the climb, and of his many unsuccessful attempts, from which the engraving is taken.  The book, which of course is now out of copyright, is available online in various formats.  There is even an online version.  The rockfall in the engraving occurred in 1862, and thus was during one of his unsuccessful attempts.

The rockfall in the image is described as follows:

I was near to [the tent] when all at once I heard a noise aloft, and, on looking up, perceived a stone of at least a foot cube flying straight at my head. I ducked, and scrambled under the lee side of a friendly rock, while the stone went by with a loud buzz. It was the advanced guard of a perfect storm of stones, which descended with infernal clatter down the very edge of the ridge, leaving a trail of dust behind, with a strong
smell of sulphur, that told who had sent them. The men below were on the look-out, but the stones did not come near them, and breaking away on one side went down to the Glacier du Lion.

The rockfall was also observed by Professor Tyndall, and the book includes an account of the rockfall as follows:

We had gathered up our traps, and bent to the work before us, when suddenly an explosion occurred overhead. We looked aloft and saw in mid-air a solid shot from the Matterhorn describing its proper parabola, and finally splitting into fragments as it smote one of the rocky towers in front. Down the shattered fragments came like a kind of spray, slightly wide of us, but still near enough to compel a sharp look-out. Two or three such explosions occurred, but we chose the back fin of the mountain for our track, and from this the falling stones were speedily deflected right or left.”

It is even possible to buy a t-shirt, a cushion, a bag or even an iPad sleeve featuring this image.