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Technique and condition
Turner painted the composition on white wove paper, without any initial pencil drawing, using transparent watercolour washes. The materials were not analysed. The blue washes have faded and the original hue must have been bluer, as can be deduced from a darker blue visible along the upper edge, once covered by a window mount. Yellow washes may have faded. Furthermore, the paper will have yellowed over time at least to a slight degree, so the overall appearance will now be more yellow than it was meant to be.
The subject was copied by a practised watercolourist, Charlotte Caspers,1 using some of the studio pigments surviving in large volumes in the Turner Bequest, hand-ground in gum arabic, the medium Turner used on many occasions. These were applied to a reproduction ‘Turner white’ paper made for research purposes from linen and cotton fibres, glue-sized by dipping as were Turner’s own papers, and therefore with a similar thickness, and absorbency. Turner’s paper has a finer structure and is darker in tone: more buff coloured. Prussian blue, chrome yellow, gamboges (deep yellow), yellow, brown, purplish red and more typically red madder lake were used from the studio pigments, and two later nineteenth-century watercolour boxes were used to provide bone black and burnt umber. The reconstruction was started with a graphite pencil sketch for the general outline, a necessary substitution for the thought processes of another artist when a copy is being made. The paper was not ‘stretched’, that is, taped down on a flat surface before it was wetted, and when de-ionised water applied with a sponge, it immediately developed some disturbing distortions. There is evidence for Turner’s use of taping in only a few works in the Bequest, but it facilitates the use of glue-sized paper, for an artist much less familiar with its response than was Turner.
The painting is well planned and is painted less spontaneously than other Rigi studies such as Red Rigi: Sample Study (Tate D36060; Turner Bequest CCCLXIV 214). During the painting process, the mountain was developed from different transparent layers. Soft colour transitions are essential in this work to create the right atmosphere. They are achieved by the application of a fluid paint and later application of small, relatively dry paint strokes. Occasionally a broader use of the brush can be observed. Colour contrast between yellow and blue is important to the tonal structure of this watercolour and can be compared to the tonality of many of Turner’s other watercolours made during the 1820s and thereafter.
Charlotte Caspers, ‘Reconstructing 19th-Century British Watercolour Paint’, unpublished thesis for postgraduate course in conservation of easel paintings with specialisation in ‘Historical Reconstructions and Painting Techniques’, Stichting Restauratie Atelier Limburg (SRAL), Maastricht 2008, pp.66–7.