Technique and condition
This watercolour and pencil sketch on white paper has a rough graphite pencil under-drawing, probably applied after Turner had soaked the paper, then applied pale washes of blue for the sky to the left and the water, and yellow for the sky on the right, and the foreground. Much of the composition was built up using blue or yellow washes, the predominant pigments being Prussian blue and yellow ochre. Some of the washes are toned with Mars red or brown earth pigments, in particular the greyer shades. Alternate washes of yellow and blue have been used to add form and vague detail.
Examination at moderate magnification, up to x40, made it clear that some of the blue and yellow washes were each painted using a single pigment, namely Prussian blue and yellow ochre. The identifications of these materials were in fact confirmed by removed tiny samples the size of a pin-point, and placing them in the sample chamber of a scanning electron microscope, under an X-ray beam. This beam interacts with the elements that make up each pigment, and the resulting spectrum makes it possible to work out which elements are present. Since it is already known that the washes are pure colours, it is then possible to work out exactly which pigment was used in each case. Visual identifications of these materials can then be made on other watercolours, when it is already known from examination at moderate magnification that the wash consists of a pure pigment and not a mixture. In a complex and finished watercolour with multiple overlying washes, it would be foolish to attempt such visual identification.
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