Joseph Mallord William Turner

At Petworth: Morning Light through the Windows


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Gouache and watercolour on paper
Support: 140 × 191 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCXLIV 112

Technique and condition

This study is on a blue wove paper, typical of those used by Turner in his middle years, which has in the past been covered by a window mount and exposed to too much light. This has not only faded out the blue component of the paper, but has caused the rest to turn yellow. This irreversible change affects the appearance of the reddish pigment applied over the paper as transparent wash, making it look more pink even though the pigment itself has not been faded.
This paper is made from a majority of uncoloured flax fibres derived from linen rags, and a minority of blue-dyed linen and hemp fibres made from blue fabrics ultimately discarded as rags. Some papers such as that in The Billiard Players (Tate D22778; Turner Bequest CCXLIV 116) include blue-dyed cotton fibres of different thicknesses, and little or no hemp, with the colourless flax fibres. Still other blue papers used by Turner include a few red-dyed fibres as well. The paper-maker would have combined the treated and beaten rags to give a consistent – or occasionally interesting and unique – set of papers for sale. Hemp fibres age and discolour faster than cotton and linen ones, so different papers have inherently different stability to light, although this is unknown to the artist who uses them. All the fibre colours are visible when the sheet is viewed on a table at x20 to x40 magnification, and fibre types can be identified with reasonable certainty if a tiny sample is separated from the sheet, teased out, and viewed in transmitted light with a research microscope at x100 to x250. The paper-making process involves harsh and lengthy chemical treatment, beating and stirring of the fibres, so they are always more difficult to identify than younger fibres in cloth that has not yet been discarded and made into paper. The paper-making process in Turner’s era is discussed in much greater detail by Bower,1 who has noted that Turner usually used good quality papers that had been carefully selected for their absorbency and tactile qualities as well as their colour.

Helen Evans
October 2008

Revised by Joyce Townsend
March 2011

Peter Bower, Turner’s Papers: A Study of the Manufacture, Selection and Use of his Drawing Papers 1787–1820, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1990; Peter Bower, Turner’s Later Papers: A Study of the Manufacture, Selection and Use of his Drawing Papers 1820–1851, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1999.

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