View this artwork by appointment, at Tate Britain's Prints and Drawings Rooms
Technique and condition
The white wove paper was first completely soaked by the application of broad horizontal washes to establish the sky and middle distance in blue, and probably the ground on which the windmill would stand, in brown. The same process can be detected beneath many of Turner’s oil paintings which depict both seascapes and landscape: canvases abandoned early have a similarly luminous appearance to the sky here, since Turner virtually always used a white-primed canvas for oil painting, which gives the same optical effect as the smooth white paper selected for this watercolour.
The peach-coloured clouds were created in a similar way to the first washes, using sweeping horizontal strokes of paint applied to wet paper, but applied with a much finer brush. Denser and often broader washes of brown in the foreground were applied to paper kept damp for the purpose, to build up form and depth for the slope in the foreground, and to create the trees seen against the sky. The windmill itself was painted over the sky, onto dry paper. The brighter mixed green washes were added next, probably by lifting off some of the brown paint locally with a wet brush, to leave a whiter background that would confer more luminosity in these areas. The fence running down to the foreground was also created by first removing rather than adding paint, then painting in the posts with fine brushstrokes on damp paper, so that its brown upright posts are not lost within the brown landscape. Finer details such as the vanes of the windmill, and the wooden fence atop the slope and running down to the valley, were painted in with a fine brush, after the paper had been allowed to dry again.
Two or possibly three shades of brown, one or more of them an ochre, indigo (probably) and Indian yellow were sufficient to create the image, by layering and mixing.
The washes and outlining used to create the washline border include carbon black ink and a wash or brown ochre, but there is very little or no black pigment in the image itself. A washline border round the work is a conventional means of presenting a finished watercolour, though it is more usual to apply the wash to a separate window mount that can be placed on top of the watercolour.
Perhaps an imaginary subject, this appears, as J.P. Heseltine pointed out,1 to be a very early instance of Turner’s use of gouache, which is used in the paling fence that runs down the hill to the left. Compare the technique of Tate D00691 (Turner Bequest XXVIII F), which paraphrases J.R. Cozens (1752–1797). This composition would appear to imitate Rembrandt (1606–1669), inspired perhaps by some etchings and drawings, or even possibly the famous painting of The Mill, now in the National Gallery of Art, Washington. Turner was to imitate this latter more explicitly in his painting Windmill and Lock of 1810 (currently untraced).2
The back of the mount blank.