Turner’s Light

Light is therefore colour.” J. M. W. Turner.

Born in London in 1775, Turner is considered the painter of light and the forerunner of abstract art with his atmospheric landscapes. He used oil ever more transparently, avoiding details and fading colours so his paintings looked unfinished, especially in the last period of his career. He attempted to capture the light in a non-naturalistic and conventional way, focusing on the impression of light’s nature in the mind of the observer. A real lesson for the future Impressionism.

Indistinctness is my forte.” J.M.W. Turner.

Turner was used to buy his colours by anti-Newtonian chemist George Field. Field based his colour theory on the three primary colours Red-Yellow-Blue, because he considered these colours sacred as symbol of the Divine Trinity. The corresponding pigments for him were Red Madder (he cultivated the roots in his own garden)-Indian and Lemon Yellow-Ultramarine and Lapislazzuli.

Indian Yellow has a singular story behind. It was originally produced from the urine of cattle fed with mango leaves in India, and then exported to Europe where it had a lot of success with Dutch Masters. It was also called Puree, Piuri. With time this process was obviously banned to avoid animal cruelty and considering the holy status of the cows in Indian religion too.

For what concerns Lemon Yellow, it’s a Barium Chromate with formula BaCrO4, anyway toxic. Today replaced with Arilamide or Nickel Titanate.

Chrome Yellow instead is a Lead Chromate, it tends to darken with time. It’s been discovered by french chemist Vauquelin in the mineral Crocoite, in 1797. Being toxic due the heavy metal Lead, nowadays it has been replaced with Cadmium (ok, toxic too, but in a minor way). Better not mixing with Ultramarine Blue.

Nevertheless, Turner tested almost all those new pigments at the time, experimenting sometimes with disastrous results!

Your businesses Winsor is to make colour. Mine is to use them.” This is Turner responding to gentle criticism from William Winsor (info courtesy from famous brand Winsor&Newton) who was concerned about Turner’s occasional lack of forward thinking when it came to using colour that would last.

Turner was obsessed by new pigments, studies about light, Goethe’s Theory and Rembrandt’s works, all fundamental on his artistic evolution.

His paintings “Light and Colour, The morning after the deluge” and “Shade and Darkness, The evening of the deluge” (both oil, exhibited 1843, Tate Gallery, London Uk) are paired and based on Goethe’s Colour Theory.

Turner production, anyway, is huge; he left more than 19.000 works to the British nation…

To be continued…