Joseph Mallord William Turner, 'Boats at Sea' after circa 1830

Joseph Mallord William Turner
Boats at Sea after circa 1830
Watercolour on paper
support: 222 x 280 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856

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These almost calligraphic marks on a wash of yellow represent boats on an expanse of sea. A bold brushstroke leaves a faint horizontal line dividing the composition in two, suggesting the distinction between sky and water. In this loose study Turner uses colour and line economically. Shapes, and areas of light and shade, are roughly suggested as he works out the basic compositional structure in preparation for a finished picture. The simple red and black forms suggest light and shade at sunset.

Joseph Mallord William Turner, 'Ehrenbreitstein' 1841

Joseph Mallord William Turner
Ehrenbreitstein 1841
Gouache and watercolour on paper
support: 243 x 300 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856

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Turner visited Germany on several occasions and toured the tributaries of the Rhine, including the river Mosel. From the town of Coblenz, he painted the majestic peaks of Ehrenbreitstein, a formidable mountain topped by a fortress. He loved to paint the same view at different times of the day, recording the changing light conditions. In his perspective lectures, Turner agreed with Goethe’s theory that red was an ‘aerial’ colour, the most commanding of the primaries and the colour of matter itself.

Joseph Mallord William Turner, 'Ehrenbreitstein' 1841

Joseph Mallord William Turner
Ehrenbreitstein 1841
Watercolour on paper
support: 245 x 305 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856

View the main page for this artwork

Turner wanted to represent the harmonies of contrasting colours, but he disagreed with the theories of Newton and Goethe. For Turner, their ideas followed the spectrum and primary colour frameworks too rigidly to suggest the diversity of colours and tonal relationships in nature. He experimented with different colour combinations when painting the solid mass of the mountain of Ehrenbreitstein and the hazy atmosphere of the surrounding landscape and the setting sun.

‘light and darkness … are necessary to the production of colour. Next to the light, colour appears which we call yellow; another next to the darkness, which we name blue … but the intensest and purest red … is produced when the two extremes of the yellow-red and blue-red are united. … But we can also assume an existing red in addition to the definite existing blue and yellow … With these three or six colours, which may be conveniently included in a circle, the elementary doctrine of colours is alone concerned.’
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Theory of Colours 1810