Joseph Mallord William Turner?In Glen Almond near Newton Bridge; Two Trees, with a Mountain Beyond c.1801

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Artwork details

?In Glen Almond near Newton Bridge; Two Trees, with a Mountain Beyond
Date c.1801
MediumGouache and graphite on paper
Dimensionssupport: 340 x 480 mm
Acquisition Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest LVIII 55
View this artwork by appointment, at Tate Britain's Prints and Drawings Rooms

Technique and condition

The composition was begun with light graphite pencil sketching of the mountain tops and the more distant trees, on white wove Whatman paper that had previously been lightly washed all over to give a pale greyish buff background. The warm brown wash that defines the whole of the landscape was probably applied next, to paper that was more than damp, in fact quite wet. This in effect created the sky as a reserved area of buff-washed paper, with clouds very summarily indicated with the same brown wash, to break up what would otherwise be a blank in the upper two-thirds of the paper. To the right of the sky, some of the brown wash more resembles water damage than rapid application of paint. If the sketches in this group were indeed done outdoors, limp and damp paper and adventitious water damage from dripping trees would not be unexpected, and the group may be a very practical response to typical weather conditions in the western side of Scotland, which are hardly conducive to the application of dry, hard-edged washes. Turner always tended to utilise accidental variation in paper absorbency if he could, and splashes of rain would have the same effect as repeated applications of watercolour wash: the glue-sized paper would be left a little more absorbent each time.
Graphite pencil provides significant colour to the composition, since it has been applied as shading applied rapidly with Turner’s right hand, to create the vegetation in the foreground, to give form to the nearer tree trunks, and to give more shape and definition to the more distant trees. A soft, blunt pencil such as this would 'take' easily to both damp and dry paper. Pale washes of yellow ochre shade were used for the mountain on the extreme right, and to add detail to some of the areas in the middle distance not previously given form by the warm brown wash. The golden yellow highlights could have been applied with the same material, to judge by their present colour. However, a related work Study of a Rocky Cliff (Tate D03437; Turner Bequest LVIII 58) was found to have unusually darkened highlights in Indian yellow, the change being attributable to light exposure. This may be the same material. In either case, such a limited range of materials is very practical, in terms of carrying and using them outdoors.
This sketch has in the past been covered by a window mount, and exposed to light for a considerable period. This has faded both the greyish buff overall wash and the warm brown wash, and has also darkened the paper to a pale brown. This gives a degree of warm-toned compensation for the faded colorants, but has resulted in reduced contrast between the non-coloured sky and the warmer brown areas. If yellow ochre has indeed been used, it would not have changed colour, but the golden yellow highlights on the leaves would now stand out more strongly against the rest of the composition. If Indian yellow was used instead, the brownish appearance of the highlights and very pale appearance of the yellow washes could both be due to excessive light exposure, causing the washes to lose impact and the highlights to function as mid lights instead.
The artist and diarist Joseph Farington noted in 1802 that Turner ‘showed me his sketches made in Scotland. Those made with black lead pencil on white paper tinted with Indian ink and Tobacco water and touched with liquid white of his own preparing’. This description can be applied here: the greyish buff wash could have been made with Indian ink combined with a brown material, since Indian ink by itself makes a very neutral grey wash of a cooler tone than that used here. Brown fading out of the mixture and yellowing paper would combine to give the background colour seen here, which would be warmer now than when newly painted. Chewing tobacco would be expected to create a warm brown liquid that would sink into the paper and create soft fuzzy outlines of the type seen here, so it could have been used pure for the warmer wash of the landscape. This improvised, somewhat unusual material has never been analysed in terms of materials. Indeed, there are no well-known references to its use by other artists.
‘Black lead pencil’ is in effect the graphite pencil familiar today, though Turner’s drawing material have been used in a holder that gripped a rod or fragment of material and permitted use right down to the end of the stump. This particular sketch has almost no white gouache, except at the top of the mountain on the right, very sparingly applied. In others in the group, a chalk-like, slightly transparent material was applied less sparingly to create rather low-key white highlights. Turner’s ‘own preparing’ probably means that Turner himself had previously ground dry chalk pigment into gum water, using a glass muller on a glass plate. In a few other works, analysis of the gum medium suggests that Turner had a preferred mixture of gums: gum arabic with added gum tragacanth. The inclusion of gum tragacanth affects the ‘wash-up’ of the paint, that is, the degree to which a new brushstroke dissolves and disturbs those already on the paper. More gum tragacanth means less disturbance of previous washes, and more control over the hard or soft outline to the last brushstroke applied to the paper. Analysis of Turner's travelling watercolour now at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, has shown that this gum mixture occurs in commercial watercolour blocks. At the period of this study, Turner might even have bought the ingredients to make his own gum water.

Helen Evans
October 2008

Revised by Joyce Townsend
February 2011

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