Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Interior of a Cannon Foundry

1797–8

In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Artist
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Medium
Graphite and watercolour on paper
Dimensions
Support: 247 × 347 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D00873
Turner Bequest XXXIII B

Display caption

Turner did not generally seek industrial subjects on his 1797 tour, preferring instead to concentrate on the conventionally picturesque subjects of ruins and cathedrals. The only sketches which can with any certainty be linked to the industrial processes then transforming the northern landscape are his views of mills, a view of a lead mine near Grasmere, and another of the newly-opened aqueduct at Lancaster. At Rotherham he deliberately selected a view of the parish church that allowed him to exclude the sprawling complex of Walker's Iron Foundry. However, since the factory manufactured munitions, it is possible that this watercolour depicts its interior.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Technique and condition

In this watercolour painting on off-white wove Whatman paper, graphite pencil drawing is visible in areas of thin paint application. Dense, even washes were then used. These have been darkened with black washes, but never mixed directly with black. This is an early example of Turner’s use of Mars orange, a fine-grained, synthetic earth pigment of a brighter colour than any of the natural earth pigments. He used it throughout his life, often as a light wash to intensify another colour. Here he has also used local areas of it to dramatic effect, for the water-hammer, the large ingots of metal under the hammer, and parts of the costumes, which are of course illuminated by the red-hot metal.
The ingots themselves are painted in this intensely coloured pigment over an area of reserved white paper, to create a brilliant contrast with the brown- and grey-washed paper everywhere else, painted with a limited number of brown earth pigments and possibly a brown madder. Deep blue washes in the shadows above the ingots further enhance their glow, through the use of opposed cool and warm colours. This may well be an early use of Prussian blue, for Turner. The channel of water run off from the water-wheel, and emerging in the right foreground as a water supply for quenching the metal, is painted into a reserved white area too, but with more neutrally-tinted washes, to create a more muted highlight that does not eclipse the glowing metal.
The white spray from the water-wheel was created by scratching into the paint with a thick pin, or quite possibly Turner’s sharpened thumb-nail, which he was reputed to use for the purpose, and whose right-handed scratches can be recognised in a number of oil paintings. The spray is accurately depicted descending in curved lines, and for this he would have had to turn the paper upside-down for some of the scratches, if he always used his right hand for the task. This is not as surprising as it sounds: most right-handed artists use that hand for everything, and Turner was also reported to be able to correct and improve engravers’ proofs when they were upside-down. (Left-handed artists are more likely to work with both hands, to transfer a brush or other tool to the hand nearest to the mark about be made, and to avoid reaching across themselves.)

Helen Evans
October 2008

Revised by Joyce Townsend
February 2011

Catalogue entry

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