JMW Turner’s oil paint

Returning to Turner’s use of oil paint:

As you will note on the first page Cooke’s description of the bas-relief resulting from pure lead white paint buildup. Turner would also use a palette knife to just apply light paint across the skies in a wide swath.

Here’s a description from Townsend:

By the 1830s and 1840s Turner was again using stiff, pure oil impasto, applied with a palette knife, which has retained its original buttery texture and tone. The ‘limp impasto’ of linseed drying oil and wax (unrefined beeswax in some case and spermaceti wax in others) which Turner began to use in the later 1820s was used very frequently too. It could be mixed to form softer paint than pure oil paint, and applied with a brush or a palette knife. It sagged slightly before it dried, giving a contrast with the pure oil paint, and has not yellowed significantly. Once the formulation had been worked out, Turner used it for the rest of his life.

I also read that

Turner bought ready-mixed paint medium (megilp and asphaltum) from about 1835, the earliest known date… when such mixtures were first sold in pots. Later he bought them in tubes too.

Many of the glazed shadow areas in his paintings have darkened considerably, even during this lifetime. This might have been caused by the use of megilped paint.

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9 Responses to JMW Turner’s oil paint

  1. johnk823 says:

    Some thing of interest and importance here to think about is the Theory of Color by Goethe had played in some of Turners thinking in his art.

    It is precisely that which strikes uneducated people as nature in a work of art that is not nature (from without), but man (from within).

    In speaking of nature, artists always imply something with this idea beyond that which is obvious to the mind, without their being fully conscious of the fact.

    However, that which the artist receives and then includes from nature need not be an idea in the purely abstract sense.

    With a regard to form, an artist can be led by following the laws that govern their effects, as he would understand them through his obsevation. The laws of nature and the laws of depiction show themselves to be connected in the reality of color.

    Turners skill with color was his “open secret”, being “the nature of color, formed in the picture”.

    Goethes theory on color was the only attempt in Turners time to formulate a theory of the phenomena of light and color acknowledging the physical, psychological and asthetic conditions and their interrelations. As a concept of an introduction to the phenomenality of color, it was a kindered spirit to Turners creative work.

    And, as mentioned before, Goethe wrote about the totality of color as being presented to the eye……. thereby encounters the sum of its own activity in reality. Turners comment this is the object of painting.

    To a degree we could almost look at Turners late works as an almost starting point for the observer. To take over, in their viewing, and allowing for no end in sight, continue on the painting, in their own mind, from a never ending, observational dynamic form, the colored manifestation that Turner has left for the observers mind to meld with and to sum up the never ending process of interpertation. A sort of path challenging ones own ability of interpertation of their powers of observation.

    Blessings, John

  2. trueoutsider says:

    John, I’d like to get into Goethe’s theory of color a little bit at some point. The relationship between Turner and Goethe’s theories is incredibly complex. I’ve been reading a bit about it in John Gage’s Color in Turner, which is the one book of the 15 reference books I’m using that I find myself most trapped in. Gage has written a couple terrific books on color that I read some time back. I want to also consult those. To really get deeper into Turner we need to get deeper into color theory in the late 18th century.

    I’ll just quote one paragraph from Color in Turner (p. 117):

    But it was not the conventional color-symbolism that he had found, and rejected in the Baroque theorists, but a a natural symbolism based on the role of color in his vision of the natural order. Turner was concerned with the three primary colors because he believed that they were of the essence of natural structure, of the same order as the basic geometrical forms and that the eye itself was fulfilling a natural function in producing and revealing them. But he reduced these colors to functions of light and dark because light and its negation was more fundamental even than they. For Turner’s contemporaries, the complementaries were chiefly valuable as a key to color harmony. Turner in his art was less and less concerned to express chromatic harmony, but rather the conflict of light and dark; for him the primaries were emblematic not of harmony but of disharmony. In this he was far closer to the essential system of Goethe than he could ever have imagined; but to see how he achieved it within his chosen framework of naturalism, we must understand a little more of Turner’s contact with contemporary British science.

    And we will need to pursue those scientific notions further as we move deeper into Turner’s universe.

  3. trueoutsider says:

    Turner painted two paintings, both exhibited in 1843 to specifically in reference to Goethe’s theory of colors. As John Gage writes (p. 173, Color in Turner):

    ….his attitude to Goethe is of great interest in many ways because it reveals the last stage of some of a lifetime’s interests and obsessions; and, most important, because it helps us to understand the purest essay in practical theory which Turner ever made: the pair of paintings,

    Shade and Darkness–the Evening of the Deluge,

    and Light and Color (Goethe’s Theory)–the Morning after the Deluge–Moses writing the Book of Genesis.

    Turner and Goethe both had the most extraordinary visual memories that would seem far beyond the capacity of any modern artist or poet. Here is a description of Venice written by Goethe and written 20 years after seeing Venice. This is his description of a two decade old memory of the magical city:

    In moving across the lagoons in the intense sunlight, and watching the brightly-dressed gondoliers swinging their oars easily at the side of the gondolas, and how they made shapes against the blue sky and on the bright green surface of the water, I saw the best, the freshest painting of the Venetian School. The sunlight brought out the local colors dazzlingly, and the shadows were themselves so light that they could have served as lights in another context. The same went for the reflections in the sea-green water. Everything was painted light on light, so that the sparking foam-crests of the waves were essential to give the last, sharp, finishing touch.

    James Hamilton, in his Turner biography, provides a description of Turner on one of his four summer trips to Switzerland from 1841 to 1844, when he was in his late 60s. William Lake Price wrote:

    Turner held in his hand a tiny book, some two or three inches square, in which he continuously and rapidly noted down one after another of the changing combinations of mountain, water, trees, etc…. until some twenty or more had been stored away in the hour and a half’s passage.

    Turner spent his whole life unflaggingly observing nature. His paintings are so majestic because his ceaseless observation and obsession with light and color. He absorbed how painters in early centuries had translated their own sense perceptions onto the painting surface and then pushed it into new territory.

    The last chapter of Hamilton’s biography is titled “The Great Lion of the Day.”

  4. johnk823 says:

    Another thing I find very interesting, is how I think Tuner must have had a great impact on Monets work. What leads me tothis conclusion was looking at Turners “The Scarlet Sunset” 1830-40 and Monets “Sunset” 1873 and also look at Turners “The Burning of the House of Lords and Commons” 1834 and Monets “Parliment with the Sun Breaking through Fog” 1899-1901 and “The Waterloo Bridge” 1899-1901. Again, look at Turners “Slaves throwing overboard the Dead and Dying” 1840 and Monets “Rough Sea at Pourville” 1897 and”Venice at Dusk” 1908. Very simular in style and color usage to a degree. Was he inspired by Turners methods?

    Monet like Turner was captivated by the evre changing magical quality and prowse of Venetian light. I will expound on this latter and bring up the neo-Impressionist Signac who remarks on a show of 29 Venice painting at the Bernheim-Jeune gallery in the summer of 1912. Got to go eat, breakfast is ready! Bye!

    Blessings, John

    • trueoutsider says:

      John, I think I’ve quoted this before somewhere. But I don’t see any harm in posting it again here. It’s in answer to your question about Monet being inspired by Turner. Here’s a quote from Signac’s De Delacroix au Neo-Impressionisme (1899):

      In 1871, during the course of a long stay in London, Claude Monet and Camille Pissarro discovered Turner. They marveled at the assured and magic quality of his colors, they studied his work, analyzed his technique. At firs they were struck by his snow and ice effects, amazed at the way he succeeded in conveying the sensation of snow’s whiteness, which they themselves had failed to do with their large patches of silver white spread on flat with broad brushstrokes. They saw that these wonderful effects had been achieved not with white alone, but with a host of multicolored strokes, dabbed in one against the other, and producing the desired effect when seen from a distance.

      Now here’s a quote from Pissarro, which I think is even more interesting, because it shows that while they were learning from Turner, they were also searching for ways that would take them somewhere else in their investigation of light and nature. They weren’t just copying Turner by a long shot. Just as Turner was both admiring Lorraine and Poussin landscapes but also pushing his own painting somewhere else, Monet and Pissarro were doing the same with Turner.

      …while they [Turner and Constable] taught us something, showed us in their works that they had no understanding of the analysis of shadow, which in Turner’s painting is simply used as effect, a mere absence of light. As far as division of tones is concerned, Turner proved its value as a method among methods, but he did not apply it correctly and naturally.

      Now, of course, we should also keep in mind that Pissarro and Monet were seeing Turner’s where the shadow areas had significantly as we learn from Joyce Townshend. The megilped or whatever he was using in the shadow areas led to significant darkening.

      It’s all so fascinating and mysterious. I’m greatly looking forward to the Signac quotes. You’re really coming up with some things I find very exciting! Many thanks.

      • Steve says:

        I recently saw in a painting book ( forget which one ) a watercolor of Turner’s that had been taken out its frame and photographed. There was a wide bank of fresh color around the more honeyed part of the picture that had been exposed to light for 200 years. That border of white paper and bright color unaffected by light was dramatic. It completely altered my view of Turner’s ‘warm’ watercolors. I bring this up in response to Pissarro’s critique of Turner’s shadows. Granted, the Impressionists were only seven or eight decades removed from Turner’s time, but that’s a lot of aging time for an oil painting, especially considering the pigments and varnishes used in the old Academy days. Who knows what those shadows really looked like? Probably not speckled with medium value cobalt blue, like Pissarro’s & Monet’s, but possibly containing more light and color than later viewers could see or know. And in further defense of Turner, it’s about the integrity of each painting, not the scientific discoveries of an era. Impressionists were rightfully thrilled by their new understanding of light & color, and also taking full advantage of the newest brightest paints ( as did Turner in his day ). But history has a way of moving in big cycles, and what goes around , comes around again. In our era ( 20th century ) anything and everything goes,…rainbow hues or black splatters, dark-room Rothko squares or psychedelic mandelas. Neither Pissaro nor Monet could’ve seen all this coming. Turner’s paintings can be seen now as being as great, or greater, than ever. His shadows work perfectly with his lights.

  5. johnk823 says:

    As we look back the the main of the original Impressionistic movenent it would have to bring to mind such greats as Turner, Pissarro, C’ezanne, Renoir and Monet, as well as many others, but less known.

    The Venetian palaces were the last architechual motifs Monet painted and architectual forms were transformed into phenomena of nature. As I stated earlier, Monetwas captivated by the magical quality of Ventetian light. Proust’s descriptions of Venice in his “In Rememberance of Things Past”are brought alive by Monet’s paintings, where the rows of palaces…. reflected light and hour on their rosy fronts and thereby changed to appear even less as private houses and famous buildings, (but rather as)….views of nature, a nature who has, to be sure, bought forth her works with the means of human imagination.

    Although Monetwas himself uncertainof the quality of his painting (if any such thing did exist) in order to express his feelings on paper (or what ever) they were rapturously recceived. But getting back to the neo Impressionist Signac, who had seen the show of 29 Venice paintings at the Bernheim-Jeune gallery in the early summer of 1912, wrote to him enthusiastically;

    And these paintingsof Venice, more beautiful, more powerful than ever, in which everything conforms with the expression of your will, where no detail runs contrary to the emotion and in which you have achieved that happy act of self denial which Delacoix recommends- these I admire as the highest manifestation of your art.

    This praise reflected Monet’sstatus as one of the last surviving represetatives of the original Impressionist movement. Pissarro died in 1903 and C’ezanne died in 1906. His then only remaining comrade of the movement would be Renoir.

    So, as we all go through our never ending journey, in search of the secret gral of that new and exciting way of expressing our art, it is both evident and sure, that we all look back at past artists for various insperations that we sometimes incorporate into our works of art. But, like Monet, some even today, bemoan the increasing Americanization of the times as an impoverishment of the old way of life and how it was represented by the artist.

    I often wonder if Turner knew exactly how his concepts and ideas, his visions and techniques would change this wonderful world- we call art?

    • trueoutsider says:

      Here are a couple quotes from Marcel Proust that apply to all artists:

      If a little dreaming is dangerous, the curer for it is not to dream less, but to dream more, to dream all the time.

      The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.

      It’s the new eyes that count. Not to see things through others eyes. Not to think that art is what is in museums. But it’s right in your studio. There’s no need for it to be in a museum. Is being in a museum what makes something art? Is that why so many artists act as if the be all and end all of art making is having it in a museum or a prominent gallery? The be all and end all is right there in the studio.

      One more Proust quote:

      Thanks to art, instead of seeing one world only, our own, we see that world multiply itself and we have at our disposal as many worlds as there are original artists, worlds more different one from the other than those which revolve in infinite space, worlds which, centuries after the extinction of fire from which their light first emanated, whether it is called Rembrandt or Vermeer, send us still each one of its special radiance.

      And what kind of unique world are most of our contemporary artists bringing us? What are they revealing of their own inner worlds? How much of their feelings are being expressed? How many of them are painting with the deep emotion of the artists of the past?

      Being an artist of this past type is no easy task because it requires an often painful vulnerability that makes social interaction extremely difficult. Here’s an illustration of that from Gerstle Mack’s book on Cezanne:

      Monet and several other Impressionist painters, all good friends of Cezannes’, once conceived the idea of giving a luncheon in his honor. When Cezanne arrived, the others were already gathered around the table, and Monet began a little speech of welcome in which he expressed the deep admiration and affection that all of those present felt for their colleague. Cezanne listened with his head bowed and his eyes full of tears; and when Monet had finished he said “Ah Monet, even you make fun of me!” To the consternation of everyone, and in spite of all protest, he rushed from the room. He did not come back, nor could he ever be convinced that the homage of the other painters had been sincere.

  6. trueoutsider says:

    Here’s a 20th century example of that of openness toward the emotional power of painting:

    At one point when she was busy teaching Mimi [Emilie Kilgore] asked the young painter John Alexander to take de Kooning to the Rothko Chapel so that he could see the somber abstractions Rothko painted shortly before his suicide. De Kooning sat on a bench in the chapel,…. and wept.

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