Technique and condition

Seascape is painted on a fine-woven linen canvas prepared with a smooth, creamy white chalk priming. The first layers of paint are so thin as to be stains on the priming. Turner’s paint handling technique is loose in style. Paint is brushed on, spread with a knife, then wiped and scraped away to leave thin smears of colour. Then both sky and sea are painted on top in broad smudges of colour applied with a palette knife and manipulated with both ends of the brush.

The sky is opaque. Thick, paste-like paint is tempered with thin glazes seemingly rubbed into the texture of the impasto to leave a slight suggestion of colour. Elsewhere well-diluted paint is applied in a fast scrubbing gesture leaving arcs of grey matter.

The sea is transparent and now appears a rich brown in colour. Originally, it is likely that the sea was glassy in appearance, probably thick transparent textured paint tinted by subtle hues of blue derived from fine hatched strokes underneath and stained by yellow and greys from fine glazes on top. The thickest impasto may be a megilp, a mixture of oil and resin.

Smudges of white sky paint dot the lower centre of the sea but whether this is intentional is difficult to ascertain. The paint is indented with lines where this painting rested against another while still wet. A fine brown dirt layer is partially covered by strokes of white paint. It appears that Turner left any dirt that collected on the painting and simply painted over it.

The painting is not varnished. It was glue/paste lined, to mend small tears, and cleaned in the 1940s while at the National Gallery. In 1964 the upper layer of surface dirt was removed, losses filled, and retouched. It was framed and glazed at this date.

May 2000