Tuesday, August 6, 2019

What Pigments did J.M.W. Turner Use?

According to Winsor & Newton, J.M.W. Turner's watercolor pigments included "Gamboge, Quercitron Yellow, Vermilion, various iron oxides including Ochres, Umbers and Siennas, Indian Yellow, "Green Lake", Prussian Blue, Indigo, Cobalt Blue, Blue Verditer, Rose Madder, other red lake pigments possibly Carmine, Bone Black, and Mercuric Iodide (genuine scarlet). He used water colours in a block form and there is evidence he made some, if not all, himself."
Paint box of Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775 – 1851)

Turner, Dolbadarn Castle
In oil, he used "Genuine Ultramarine (Lapis Lazuli), White Lead and a very toxic yellow, Orpiment, also known as Kings Yellow or chemically, arsenic sulphide. By the early nineteenth century, he had replaced it with Chrome Yellow. There is evidence in the 1800 painting ‘Dolbadarn Castle’ that he used the lead pigment Naples Yellow."

"He also used unspecified lake pigments made by fixing a dye on a base compound such as alumina which turned a dye into a pigment. This gave the pigments great transparency in oil but less so in water. The choice of dye and base influenced the lightfastness. Turner used at least one red lake, a green and a geranium shade and all were prone to fading. Some early versions of Rose Madder had poor lightfastness but the process developed by the outstanding English colour-maker, George Field was and still is superior. This process is still followed by Winsor & Newton today."

How much did the pigments overlap between his watercolor and oil paintings? Winsor & Newton says "His love of both oil and water colour meant he experimented with using the same pigment for his oil paintings as he did in his water colours. He would have discovered that Gamboge does not work in oil nor White Lead (Flake White) in water."


gronkchicago said...

All of those old, toxic pigments! I'm doing some research into Velazquez's palette and various lead and mercury based stuff keeps coming up. Logically you can mix colors that are almost identical to those old ones but the catch is in the degree of transparency/opacity that you end up with in the end. I have, however, decided that it's more important to paint than it is to obsess with finding exact matches for the materials that the OG's used. I recommend the book "Standing In The Sun" as a great biography of Turner. Really makes the point that the guy WORKED and was always conscious of the economics involved in being a successful painter. Also the great anecdote that he was seen using white watercolor to put highlights on finished oil paintings when he thought that he needed it...not the most archival way to do it.

Marion Boddy-Evans said...

Upstairs in the Turner wing of the Tate Britain Gallery in London, where few people venture, there's some of Turner's materials and sketchbooks on display. Seeing how he tested colours on an edge of a watercolour felt like "What would Turner do?" affirmation.

Ted B. said...

JMW Turner's father was a professional colorist, a maker of pigments and paints. Formerly a wigmaker and butcher, William Turner was JMW's studio assistant for 30-years and made many of Turner's paints during that time.

Making your own paint wasn't a mystery back then. Housepainters still mixed their own paints up to the 2nd World War from commercially-available pigment and linseed oil or casein. I have old architectural references with the formulas for standard colors.