Joseph Mallord William Turner

?The River Tay North of Dunkeld, Looking North towards Pitlochry


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Ink wash, graphite and watercolour on paper
Support: 346 × 481 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest LVIII 57

Technique and condition

The composition was begun with light, sketching, using a hard graphite pencil, for the mountain tops and the more distant trees, on white wove Whatman paper that had previously been lightly washed all over to give a pale greyish buff background. The warm brown wash that defines the land in the foreground and the mountains, leaving a reserve unpainted for the water, was applied next. This in effect created the sky as another, larger, reserved area of buff-washed paper.
A softer, blunter graphite pencil was used for depicting the craggy mountain slopes and providing detail to the foreground, as well as sketching in distant trees. Pencil shading created the trees and some of the topography in the foreground. Light applications of white gouache, applied quite liquid, economically and rapidly provided highlights on the water, created clouds close to the mountain tops, foreground detail, and gave some characterisation to the figures, previously hastily sketched and shaded in pencil. The concentration of clouds at low level defines the weather on that day, without the need for Turner to apply any paint to the upper reaches of the sky.
This sketch has in the past been covered by a window mount, and exposed to light for a considerable period. This has severely faded the greyish buff overall wash, and has also darkened the paper to a pale brown, giving the whole image a much warmer tonality today. The white gouache has not apparently changed colour, but its impact must have changed, since it now contrasts with brown washes and reserved areas, instead of with substantial areas of unpainted grey background, more localised brown washes, and grey pencil marks.
The artist and diarist Joseph Farington noted in 1802 that Turner ‘showed me his sketches made in Scotland. Those made with black lead pencil on white paper tinted with Indian ink and Tobacco water and touched with liquid white of his own preparing’. This description can be applied here: the greyish buff wash could have been made with Indian ink combined with a brown material, since Indian ink by itself makes a very neutral grey wash of a cooler tone than that used here. Brown fading out of the mixture and yellowing paper would combine to give the background colour seen here, which would be warmer now than when newly painted. Chewing tobacco would be expected to create a warm brown liquid that would sink into the paper and create soft fuzzy outlines of the type seen here, so it could have been used diluted, for the warmer wash of the landscape. This improvised, somewhat unusual material has never been analysed in terms of materials. Indeed, there are no well-known references to its use by other artists.

Helen Evans
October 2008

Revised by Joyce Townsend
February 2011

Catalogue entry

The view was tentatively identified by art historian Francina Irwin as the western end of the Vale of Earne,1 but the width of the river here suggests a more substantial waterway.
See Finberg 1909, I, p.159.

Andrew Wilton
May 2013

Read full Catalogue entry


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