This is a composition in watercolour, pencil and gouache on a flecked brown, laid wrapping paper made with a single faced mould. There is no watermark and the image is painted on the felt side of the sheet. The chain lines are 227–8 mm (variable) apart and there are 7 laid lines per centimetre.1
The watercolour is rather thickly painted. Beneath the paint there is a detailed graphite pencil sketch of the composition. The entire paper is covered with dense washes and no blank areas have been left. There is very little building up of layers in the composition. Turner used a range of different brush sizes (or brush edges) to create the paint effects in this image.
In the X-radiograph of the paper a spot of thick brown pigment on the back of the paper shows up as a white patch on the front, indicating that it is a thick application of earth colour. The gouache was made from lead white, as the X-radiograph confirms: lead white is dense and heavy, and each brush-stroke shows up clearly as the brightest white in the image. This was Turner’s usual choice for gouache at in early decades, though it would have been more common at this time to use chalk instead, which gives a fairly dense gouache that would not be subject to colour change. Some brush-marks of the lead white are still very prominent in both the sky and on the sunlit shore. However, many are less prominent in the sky now because they have considerably darkened over time and no longer act as highlights; this darkening is caused by hydrogen sulphide in the air. It was a common urban pollutant in Turner's era, when horses powered city transport was common, and sewage disposal was less organised than today.
The figures (painted in true watercolour) show up poorly in the X-radiograph, except for the woman’s shawl, which is clearly visible and must therefore have been much lighter in tone originally.
For the image, black, mixed with one or two ochres, was used to create a variety of different browns. Other pigments that were used include: brownish red and red lakes, indigo (probably), and yellow ochre.
How to cite
Helen Evans, 'Technique and Condition', October 2008, revised by Joyce Townsend, February 2011, in Andrew Wilton, ‘Fishermen Hauling a Boat through Surf on a Windlass 1796–7 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, January 2013, in David Blayney Brown (ed.), J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours, Tate Research Publication, November 2014, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/joseph-mallord-william-turner-fishermen-hauling-a-boat-through-surf-on-a-windlass-r1149796, accessed 22 January 2021.