Technique and condition

J.M.W. Turner painted The Lake, Petworth: Sunset, Fighting Bucks between 1827 and 1831, on one of his frequent visits to Petworth. It was executed on a single piece of linen canvas with a plain 1x1 weave. The canvas was prepared with a single, smooth application of a white coloured, oil based primer. During a previous restoration, the original tacking margins were removed and the canvas glue-paste lined onto another linen fabric. Presumably the dimensions of the painting were not altered. The lined painting was stretched over the present six member wooden stretcher and secured with iron tacks through the lining fabric on the outside edge. The stretcher is expandable with non-mitred, double keyed, mortise and tenon joints and the front face of the stretcher bars are slightly bevelled.

Examination does not yield evidence of initial preparation or underdrawing. The artist applied oil paint to the front face only. Paint application ranges from broad areas of colour to delicate, sketchy brushstrokes. The painting is built up in many layers of varying thickness and opacity to create an atmospheric effect. Thickness varies from thin with no brushstrokes or texture to thick paint with heavy impasto. Areas of impasto are concentrated towards the centre of the composition where the sun is striking the clouds. The painting is varnished with a natural resin varnish applied evenly and covering the entire painting. Over the varnish short, quick brushstrokes of yellow glaze were applied to all areas of the painting. It is undetermined if the glaze was applied by the artist after varnishing the painting as an intermediary step or applied by a restorer.

Since its creation, the painting has been displayed at Petworth House. The support, ground, and paint are stable overall with the exception of the uppermost paint layers. These layers exhibit an extensive, fine network of cracking with some lifting edges resulting in minor loss. The fragile surface is vulnerable to future loss. Contraction crackle from the artist’s technique and choice of materials and general age cracking are visible although not visually disturbing. The front and reverse are covered in a moderate layer of surface dirt and dust. The varnish has yellowed and has decreased in gloss and transparency. The painting was treated in the Tate Conservation Studio in February 2002.

Julie Simek
January 2002