Monday, March 22, 2010

JMW Turner:Techinques Ahead of His Time

Today I coninue with my series of blog posts from my recent trip to the Yale Center for British Art in New Haven, CT.

First, a few photos of the view from the windows on the fourth floor of the venerable old buildings of Yale University...

Today I'm going to focus on JMW Turner, who is one of my favorite painters of all time. I've done several previous posts about Turner, you can read them here part 1, part 2, part 3.

You might also want to check out this post which has a good link to more Turner info and this post which contains more Turner paintings from a prior trip the the Yale Center for British Art

Turner started out working in watercolors in a style that relied heavily on precise drawing. Over the course of his life he painted in both watercolor and oil. As he pursued his investigations of light, atmosphere and color, his style moved further and further away from precisie drawing.
Eventually he abandoned form and line all together.

The idea of the sublime as a philosophical idea, a notion developed by Edmund Burke had a profound influence on European Romanticism a tradition that Turner was closely connected to.

According to Burke, the sublime was "based on man's feelings in the face darkness and natural elements unleashed in all their opposed to the balanced nature of beauty, the sublime awakens an interest in vast landscapes and terrible dramas...The notion of the sublime was central to Turner's work. It appeared both in his choice of subject matter, mountains, storms, volcanos, fire...and in its treatment, and it evolved through his career, moving from the most literal interpretations to pure metaphore." ~ Oliver Meslay

Stormy Sea Breaking on a Shore, JMW Turner, 1840-45

Wreckers, Coast of Northumbria with Steamboat Assisting a Ship Off Shore

JMW Turner

Turner's Paints and Brushes

Turner used both cobalt blue, verditer blue, smalt(Smalt is powdered glass, colored to a deep powder blue hue using cobalt. Smalt is used in decoration, dyeing and laundering. ) and ultramarine (used only sparingly).

He used flake white and blanc d'argent also known as Silver White Ceruse Dutch White French

chrome yellow and gamboge

Dry pigments were rubbed onto his wooden palette with cold-drawn oil and
colors were mixed daily.

Round and flat hog bristle brushes, also camel hair (even for his oils) and Chinese brushes were used.

These observations were made by F.EW Trimmer in 1851 when he visited Turner's studio just a few days after his death.


Here are some of the materials and techniques Turner employed: He mixed wax, resin and oil with his paints. He worked with both glazes and impasto paint. The surfaces of his paintings were scratched, torn, scumbled, masked out and had paint poured on them.

Things like wax, resin, glazes and impasto are fairly classical materials and techniques. It's the treatment of the painting surface, the scratchin, tearing etc. that really foreshadows modernism and the handling of paint and materials that would come on the scene in the 20th century.

It's those techniques employed in the service of traditional landscape motifs, coupled with the use of light as an expression of spirituality and the sublime that fascinates me and continues to influence my own work.

I wonder if Turner would have embraced acrylic paint with it's impasto gels, modelling pastes and texture laden mediums? I think so. I'm certainly glad I have them at my disposal and intend to explore further with them this year.


AutumnLeaves said...

I have to admit that I really like Turner's work too. Not that I'd have known who he was before reading your blog, so thank you for leading me to his work, Jan. I love that dark storminess...much as I liked it in the previous post. I am not sure what draws me to storms, both in paintings and in life. Drawn to the darkness as well...I think it is the enveloping comfort, the insulation it brings about - if that makes sense. I am also quite astounded to read that Turner was originally glued to line and form (much as I tend to believe belongs in paintings to make them magical for me) and then moved completely away from it. Even upon close inspection of the "Wreckers" painting, I just cannot see the ships - assisting or in trouble! I see a blob of darkness that is intriguing but wouldn't have guessed it to be ships had I not read your words.

Thanks too for your response in the last post. I've been wanting to go to the Chicago Art Museum and am now feeling that it would be a great way to spend a day by myself and just drinking in the delights.

Julz of the World said...

That was so interesting. I've seen Turner originals in London and other places, always felt awestruck at the power and luminosity of his work. Now it's obvious the emphasis is on Work. And he really knew how to work his materials. Very inspirational. Suddenly I realize what an influence Turner is in some of my own work.