Joseph Mallord William Turner

A View of Metz from the North


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour and gouache on paper
Support: 140 × 190 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLIX 192

Technique and condition

This composition was painted on blue wove paper using watercolour and gouache. The sky, which was painted last, was made from dry paint applied with a firm brush for the yellow areas of the sky to produce a textured effect that allows the blue of the paper to show through, creating a sense of depth and space. White gouache highlights are visible on some of the foreground buildings. Turner used washing-out on the left-hand side of the sky, to make the blue paper more visible. In the middle ground, areas of blue paper have been left blank to indicate arches of the bridge.
The grey paint is the optical result of vermilion and gouache being painted thinly over the blue paper. As with other works on blue paper, the gouache is made from lead white, which makes it very opaque in appearance. Other pigments used include: lemon and deep chrome yellow in the foreground, natural ultramarine, red ochre and brown earth pigments.
A close study of all the edges suggests that the work was displayed in a window mount, and that orange and yellow areas of the right side of the sky have lost considerable colour, which survives at the extreme right. There is lesser loss of colour in the pale yellow of the landscape at the lower left edge too. Vermilion is quite stable when exposed to light, and the paper has not altered or lost any of its blue tone, so the exposure may not have been great, compared to some of Turner's watercolours. This suggests that he used a yellow lake, or a yellow pigment of similar type, but not even laked to give it colour stability, mixed in places with vermilion to make orange. His surviving studio materials in the Turner Bequest include several candidates for such a material: traditional gamboges (deep yellow), which can fade completely, or at least three distinct flavonoid yellows, which might discolour to a buff or brown rather than a white as has happened here. Indian yellow, which he used mostly in his first two decades, is another possibility. Such materials are very difficult to identify analytically once faded, since it is necessary to employ a method capable of detecting – or rendering visible on the surface – faded end-products as well as constituents of the original pigment. To date, this has not been possible on a Turner watercolour. Such losses of yellow have probably occurred in his oil paintings too, though a discoloured varnish tends to hide the evidence.

Helen Evans
October 2008

Revised by Joyce Townsend
March 2011

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