Ice cream, rock and candy floss. Freshly fried sugared doughnuts, abandoned chips on decking and seagulls in feisty pursuit against a bountiful blue sky. The sun is out, temperatures are up and it looks as if finally, spring is officially here.

Joseph Mallord William Turner, 'Brighton Beach, with the Chain Pier in the Distance, from the West' circa 1827, 1843
Joseph Mallord William Turner
Brighton Beach, with the Chain Pier in the Distance, from the West circa 1827, 1843
Oil on canvas
support: 902 x 1219 mm
frame: 1070 x 1376 x 85 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856

In 1823 the original Brighton Pier was an Old Chain Pier used primarily for landing passenger ships that sailed from Dieppe in France. Turner took to painting the pier (here from the West) in 1827 and years later in 1843 he reworked the sky after some paint flaked off, perhaps caused by water or even rain damaging the work whilst it was in his studio. To do this he used bodied paint – that is, paint that retains impasto, perhaps a megilp – using yellow barium chromate, not available before 1843. He used the end of his brush to enliven the surface, leaving characteristic straight marks in the paint.

The Chain Pier too experienced similar damaging encounters in its lifetime. Between 1824 and 1834 it was stuck by several storms resulting in irreparable damage and in the late 1800s was destroyed entirely in a storm. The sea and sky in Turner’s 1827 painting were produced first with unmodified oil paint. The sky was developed with thin broken washes of opaque paint, called scumbles. The buildings were worked up with paint applied with a palette knife and smoothed with a brush.

It is thought Turner was born on 23 April 1775 on 21 Maiden Lane in Covent Garden, London. This date also marks the celebration of patron saint St. George of England. So, this week let’s take this opportunity to celebrate the day it’s thought Turner was born and remember the 13th century origins of St. George’s Day as a national day of feasting. Fish and chips on the beach? Go on, treat yourself.


It would really help if someone instead of just giving lectures on the paintings of JMWT we had one on the actual techniques he used. Everything from the actual type of paper and how he stretched it to the additives and application.