This was a rare watercolour, with few remaining from this famous French artist's career. It was produced using watercolours in combination with gouache and black chalk, with elements of ink and graphite also added alongside. It is possible that the artist constructed this work whilst out travelling, because of the tools used, but normally he would produce his paintings from his permanent studio. The majority of his landscape paintings would be in oils, and that medium was certainly easier from the comfort of his studio, but watercolours offered a little more flexibility and he was often drawing landscapes whilst outdoors. We know, for example, that he drew many scenes of Scotland during his visits there, but would wait until he was home before producing oil versions. This particular painting was a gift of Helen Porter and James T. Dyke to its present owners.
The scene itself features tall trees pointing upwards to the sky, whilst clinging on to the steep rockface of this European region. The title of An Alpine Valley with Trees and Boulders helps us to identify an approximate location. The artist chooses his angle carefully, with further mountains appearing along the left hand side, and a small window of sky appearing from the very back. One can just identify spots of paint which signify the use of watercolours rather than oils, such as around the grey clouds. Of all the different places that Gustave Doré would travel to, it seems that it would be the mountainous regions which would excited and inspired him. The artist loved to paint and put a lot of energy into improving his skills within this medium but he would never quite achieve the same levels of fame that he had already established as a draughtsman and, specifically, a book illustrator.
The artist would sign this piece in the bottom right corner, alongside its date. Normally with his illustrations, by contrast, he would sign it in the left corner, and allow the engraver to then potentially add their signature in the bottom right, prior to the wood engraving going into the final stages of printing. Relatively little is known about his paintings, and even more so the case with his watercolours, making An Alpine Valley with Trees and Boulders at the National Gallery of Art a particularly important addition. Visitors will find many other artworks to enjoy at this important institution which continues to be amongst the most visited museums in the entire country, which is quite an achievement considering the large number of impressive galleries now found right across the US.