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Technique and condition
Turner painted the composition on the a rather pale example of the blue wove paper he often used at this period, without any initial pencil drawing, using watercolour washes and limited applications of white gouache.
The subject was copied twice by a practised watercolourist, Charlotte Caspers,1 using modern pigments ground in gum, and a reproduction ‘Turner blue’ paper made from linen and cotton fibres, glue-sized as were Turner’s own papers, and with a similar thickness, and absorbency. Both the reconstructions were started with a graphite pencil sketch for the general outline of their compositions, a necessary substitution for the thought processes of another artist when a copy is being made. The first copy was painted with some minor technical drawbacks in that the paper was not ‘stretched’, that is taped down on a flat surface before it was wetted, and the brushes used were somewhat small. The second copy approaches the original in size, had its paper stretched and taped on a wooden board during painting, and the brush used was of a more realistic size. There is evidence for Turner’s use of taping in only a few works in the bequest, but it does facilitate the use of glue-sized paper, for an artist much less familiar with its response than was Turner.
The overall tone of this work is a greyish blue combined with purple and ochre in the foreground. The blue mid-tone of the paper proved to be essential during painting. It acts as a harmoniser and enables rapid working. The watercolour is built up from light-dark contrasts and the direction of the brush-strokes. Only one contrasting colour is present: brown-yellow in the foreground boats. The diagonally orientated clouds and the water to the left meet each other slightly off centre on the horizon; this is the darkest area of the painting. The darkness and direction of the clouds are reinforced by the fact that the rest of the horizon is quite light. These combined effects direct the viewer’s eye to the middle of the painting and then, due to the juxtaposition of contrasting values, towards the lighter boats in the foreground. The lower right-hand corner is light in tone and consists mainly of the paper support rather than paint. Turner, by painting the boats in a light area and giving them a light colour, has created the illusion that they are bathed in light. The lightest tone of the boats is equivalent to the lightest area of the landscape. Where the form of boats overlaps the darker sky, the colouration becomes slightly darker. The broad approach of putting larger contrasting areas next to each other creates tranquillity. The way in which the different areas are connected contributes to the harmony of the painting: this is illustrated by the distant boat, on the left of the horizon, which connects the foreground with the background. It is crucial that this boat was given the right hue by Turner and in the copy, because if it were rendered too dark it would appear to come forward in space.
See also Charlotte Caspers, ‘Reconstructing 19th-Century British Watercolour Paint’, unpublished thesis for postgraduate course in conservation of easel paintings with specialisation in ‘Historical Reconstructions and Painting Techniques’, Stichting Restauratie Atelier Limburg (SRAL), Maastricht 2008, pp.65–6.
This colour study on blue paper of a Breton three-masted vessel, known as a Chasse-Marrée, caught in a patch of sunlight outside a harbour, is one of three stylistically similar shipping scenes which Turner worked up from his 1826 tour of Northern France. See also D24644 and D24750 (Turner Bequest CCLIX 79, 185).1
Ian Warrell, Turner on the Loire, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1997, p.219 no.59.
Inscribed in pencil with the notes ‘25a’ in the centre of the sheet and ‘CCLIX 161’ bottom right-hand corner. Stamped in black with the Turner Bequest monogram and with ‘CCLIX – 161’ in the centre of the sheet.