Joseph Mallord William Turner

Storm Clouds over a Landscape at Sunset


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite and watercolour on paper
Support: 242 × 345 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CXCVII F

Technique and condition

This study was executed on white wove paper that Turner must have acquired some time earlier, since it has a Whatman watermark and ‘1814’ countermark. There is very light and sketchy graphite pencil drawing beneath the paint layer, to establish broad divisions between sea, land and sky, but Turner did not follow these lines at all closely after he had soaked the paper and applied broadly horizontal washes of colour. The dark grey clouds in particular were made on very wet paper, and the paint was stirred around to create dramatic effects already begun by the spontaneous movement of wet watercolour washes. Tilting or bending the paper would have encouraged the process: this was eminently possible since there is no evidence to suggest that it was taped or restrained during the painting process. The washes have been worked with fingers and thumb, particularly where the nearer shore meets the water, to create further chance effects that could be built upon. The light areas below the dark cloud were washed out.
Visual and microscopical examination suggests that the red pigment used was vermilion, applied pure for the sky, mixed with yellow for the immediate foreground, and with indigo added to the mixture for the green water. Ultraviolet examination would have indicated the presence of a red madder lake which might have been thought of as a more likely colour to select for such a sky, and it suggests that the yellow streak in the shoreline is painted with a deep shade of chrome yellow. This material had just become available in ever deeper tones of yellow, and orange and scarlet shades would be sold by the end of Turner’s life. He was a very early adopter of the colour, which would come to be his favourite yellow pigment in both oil and watercolour, the pale clarity of its lighter shades ideally suited to application over white paint or white paper respectively. Here the deep shade is a very early use, though it loses impact when placed next to the deep blue-grey clouds and greenish grey vegetation of the shoreline. The grey clouds were mixed from indigo and vermilion. The three pigments in combination made the dark greens of the distant trees on the shoreline.

Helen Evans
October 2008

Revised by Joyce Townsend
March 2011

Catalogue entry

The dense but fluidly painted grey clouds against the pink sky over a darkening landscape, apparently with trees or hills on the horizon beyond an open plain or water, give a slightly lurid effect. The colour has been lifted out to give the effect of the last light of the sun catching the underside of the stormy clouds before dusk settles over the scene.
Compare St Michael’s Mount and Study of Sea and Sky (Tate D25434, D25479; Turner Bequest CCLXIII 311, 356) among the canonical ‘Little Liber’ watercolours, and Tate D17194 (Turner Bequest CXCVII D) in the present subsection.
Blank; scattered brown staining. Inscribed by ?John Ruskin in pencil ‘AB 79 P | O’; inscribed in pencil ‘5’ at centre; inscribed by A.J. Finberg in red ink ‘CXCVII | F.’ towards bottom right; stamped in black with Turner Bequest monogram over ‘CXCVII – F’ bottom left.

Matthew Imms
September 2016

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