Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Billiard Players


View this artwork by appointment, at Tate Britain's Prints and Drawings Rooms

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Gouache and watercolour on paper
Support: 141 x 191 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCXLIV 116

Technique and condition

This study is on a blue wove paper, typical of those used by Turner in his middle years, which has in the past been covered by a window mount and exposed to too much light. This has not only faded out the blue component of the paper, but has caused the rest to turn yellow. In 1999 the paper was treated by paper conservators with a weak solution of a reducing bleach, in order to minimise the yellow appearance of the paper fibres. The colour change seen today is an irreversible effect that would be made even worse by continued over-exposure to light.
This paper is made from a majority of uncoloured flax fibres derived from linen rags, and a minority of blue-dyed cotton fibres of different thicknesses, made from blue fabrics ultimately discarded as rags. The similarly-looking and similarly-altered blue paper used for At Petworth: Morning Light through the Windows (Tate D22774; Turner Bequest CCXLIV 112) is made from blue-dyed linen and hemp fibres. Still other blue papers used by Turner include a few red-dyed fibres as well. The paper-maker would have combined the treated and beaten rags to give a consistent – or occasionally interesting and unique – set of papers for sale. Hemp fibres age and discolour faster than cotton and linen ones, so different papers have inherently different stability to light, although this is unknown to the artist who uses them. Arguably, since hemp fibres yellow more dramatically than linen ones, the gentle bleaching treatment noted above would have had more effect on a hemp-based paper. All the fibre colours are visible when the sheet is viewed on a table at x20 to x40 magnification, and fibre types can be identified with reasonable certainty if a tiny sample is separated from the sheet, teased out, and viewed in transmitted light with a research microscope at x100 to x250. The paper-making process involves harsh and lengthy chemical treatment, beating and stirring of the fibres, so they are always more difficult to identify than younger fibres in cloth that has not yet been discarded and made into paper. The paper-making process in Turner’s era is discussed in much greater detail by Bower,1 who has noted that Turner usually used good quality papers that had been carefully selected for their absorbency and tactile qualities as well as their colour.

Helen Evans
October 2008

Revised by Joyce Townsend
March 2011

Peter Bower, Turner’s Papers: A Study of the Manufacture, Selection and Use of his Drawing Papers 1787–1820, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1990; Peter Bower, Turner’s Later Papers: A Study of the Manufacture, Selection and Use of his Drawing Papers 1820–1851, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1999.

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