View this artwork by appointment, at Tate Britain's Prints and Drawings Rooms
Technique and condition
This study has been painted using several premixed colours of gouache on blue paper, often combined on the paper with rapid brush-strokes. The gouache was applied thickly, and even as a single layer it cancels the optical contribution of the paper in most of the image except the middle ground, where the paper ‘reads’ as another area of light blue.
X-radiography of the sheet was used to trace patterns of use of lead-containing paint in this study. It indicates that the white pigment in the gouache is lead white, which accounts for its extremely opaque surface appearance. Turner was an early user of lead white in gouache, and by the middle of the nineteenth century other artists were also using it regularly. Lead white in scanty amounts of gum water as Turner used it, can easily discolour to a speckled or solid dark brown when it reacts with hydrogen sulphide gas, a common urban pollutant during the nineteenth century. Here, the gouache is in excellent condition. The yellow pigment does not show up in the X-radiograph, which indicates that it is not chrome yellow (whose chemical formula is lead chromate) despite its colour. Probably it is yellow ochre.
The study could have been done very rapidly, and the trees were painted over the sky after it was completed.
Turner worked gouache and watercolour paints onto this sheet of blue paper to depict an aqueduct or viaduct crossing a valley. On stylistic grounds, Art historian Ian Warrell linked this piece to the ‘colour studies’ of northern French subjects which the artist painted the early 1830s with a view to engraved illustration; the lost Roman aqueduct at Arcueil south of Paris was proposed as the motif at that point.1 Certainly Turner had taken considerable interest in this terrain during earlier tours; see, for example, Tate D24525 (Turner Bequest CCLVIII 13a) in the Dieppe, Rouen and Paris sketchbook of 1821.
Ian Warrell, Turner on the Seine, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1999, pp.23, 252 note 39.
The centre of the sheet is inscribed with a pencil note reading ‘22a’. The Tate number ‘D.20255’ is inscribed in the bottom right-hand corner in pencil. There is a slight water stain towards the bottom left-hand corner.