Gavin Pretor-Pinney: My name is Gavin Pretor-Pinney and I am the author of the Cloud Spotters Guide, and founder of the Cloud Appreciation Society. I’ve been invited by the Tate to come here to Tate Britain and talk about the clouds in some of the paintings that are up on the walls. The first one I wanted to talk about is this cloud study by John Constable. John Constable was very interested in what was happening in the sky and spent a couple of years in the 1820s dispensed with the ground altogether and just painted the clouds and he did a number of his cloud studies focusing on different cloud formations, different types of clouds and it is really important I guess if you are a painter and you are wanting to depict a moody sky, it’s important to be able to be very adept at this use of tone from a sky like this, a strata cumulus sky like this. This is Hampstead Heath with a Rainbow by John Constable and in fact it is a double rainbow that he has painted there, you can see you have got the primary bow and a secondary bow outside it and this is something you quite often see in the sky. Interestingly Constable has demonstrated what a good observer of the sky he is by getting the brightness of the bows correct. The inner bow here is brighter than the outer secondary bow and that’s something you will always observe. Compared with another painting of rainbows up in the Tate gallery here you can see how Constable is getting it right, the other guy, Jan Siberechts, I mean it was one hundred and fifty years before but he has got his rainbows the wrong way round. If you are going to put a pair of rainbows in your paintings get them the right way round, that’s what I say. So I couldn’t come to the Tate and talk about clouds and paintings without drawing reference to Turner. I guess you could say Turner was like an early storm chaser. I believe that he was even strapped to the mast of a boat, of a ship, during a storm so that he could really feel he was right in the centre of things and that impression of being right in the centre of things really comes across in a painting like this. You can see, well you can’t see the division between the sky and the sea. The amount of moisture that is in the air and the amount of bubbles and air that is in the sea is so great that the division between the two is lost and what you get is merely a kind of emotion in the painting. This is the one I wanted to look at next. It’s by John Brett and its called The British Channel Seen from the Dorsetshire Cliffs. I guess one thing I like about this is his use, Brett’s use of corpuscular rays, corpuscular rays are these shafts of light that you can sometimes see in the sky. Perhaps the one thing that Brett’s got wrong in this painting from my perspective as a cloud spotter at least is the relationship between the light that he is so obviously fascinated with, the way the light falls on the sea, the relationship between that and the clouds he has got above I don’t think is quite right. He has got these bright spots of light on the sea and I think those sort of shafts would only appear when you have a different form of clouds above perhaps a strata cumulous sky with holes in it and the holes allow almost like beams, torch beams, of sunlight to come down and strike the sea surface. This is De Loutherbourg’s Vision of the White Horse. It looks a bit like what you might see painted on the side of a Harley Davidson but it does I guess demonstrate another role of clouds in painting which is to impart a sense of the divine, De Loutherbourg did this design for an illustrated bible. A painting with clouds in the background like this is very appropriate for a bible in my mind, you know, the clouds either have a role as the sofas of the saints or they have a role of, you know, with this red, this deep red within them, as being kind of the cloak of the heavens or even the cloak of hell. When you come into this room you can’t miss this enormous painting by James Ward, its called Gordale Scar and it depicts these limestone cliffs in Yorkshire. I guess the clouds we have got up above the cliffs in the background, I think they have a symbolic role of exaggeration of the sense of scale of the scene. You almost get a feeling of vertigo looking up at these cliffs from down in the valley. This is shock and awe tactics in painting.