J.M.W. Turner the
Discovery of Shipwreck, the Rescue, JMW Turner
R.A; Turner expertise, authentication, and curatorial expert opinion /
discovery of the Orrock Ehrenbrietstein - Martin Butlin Hand
Dubitable "Hand C"
J.M.W.TURNER R.A. PINXT J. COUSEN SCUPLT
Art World’s Dirty Little Secret
"As he glowered at the painted surface of the tiny orphan, he chastised; "The actual way the paint’s put on isn’t right and I’ve seen other things like this."
G: "What about the impasto?"
M rejoined: “this blobby look, which doesn’t really—,” while pointing to the center of the painting he exclaimed, “What the hell’s that meant to be!” Pointing to another area, “what’s that meant to be?”
G answered: "It’s very sketchy."
It should be remembered that the painting had initially been dubbed by Martin as Hand C. From the Oxford Companion page 100: "Hand C is distinguished by the small size of the paintings, in oils, and by an over delicate prettification of Turnerian style and motifs.” This description seems far from being hellishly incoherent and “blobby.”
M continued his assault: “even in the most sketchy Turner you can tell,” he abruptly stopped himself as he started to recognize some of the content, “Oh! That is a sail of a ship; I don’t know what these are.”
G answered enthusiastically, “Actually, those are houses.”
M: So they are, yeah.
At this point Graham might have called forth Turner himself, or at least Ruskin who had borne witness to similar confusion two centuries earlier. Turner's frustration with one of his engravers is explained by Thornbury as such: “In a proof impression of a plate lately submitted to me, the engraver had failed to discern the distant representation of a village at the base of a hill, and had substituted some unintelligible nothings. Turner had run a heavy pencil line into the margin of the paper to intimate that these were ‘houses;’ and the miniature village seemed to come into focus as if by magic.”[i] Yes, at Graham’s prompting it seems that the village came into focus, as if by magic.
Orrock Ehrenbrietstein, an enlarged detail of the houses and sailboats. The domed church of the Holy Cross seen to the left of the tree is the same one seen in the exhibited Ehrenbrietstein, the Bright Stone of Honour, and in the etching done after it (see the top of the page).
Graham Reynolds expresses brilliantly the power and immediacy of Turner’s brushwork at the apex of his career—his “graphic shorthand which enabled him to simplify what he saw into a few swift mnemonic strokes.”[ii]
Orrock Ehrenbrietstein: enlarged detail showing two figures-as
Graham Reynolds would describe: done with “a few swift mnemonic stokes.”
Graham undeterred, made an enquiry about the support the picture was painted on. It was a book board that had a marbled design on the back very much like the boards seen on other Turner sketchbooks.
G asked, “How would a 19th century faker even know Turner used book boards.”
M: “He [the faker] may not have even thought that
anybody would be bothered to look at the back of the picture.”
It was a standard for the economy-wise Turner to use available scraps, including the book boards of his sketchbooks. Ruskin was commissioned to review most of Turner's sketchbooks in the late artist's studio. While re-interring the neglected remains of several of the artist’s drawings, “and the boards of each book” back into their tin box, Ruskin noted: “with two sketches on the boards at the beginning and the end.”[iii]
Graham continued pressing for solid stylistic reasoning: “Is the way he used the palette knife in the sky [like Turner]?”
M: In a way, that’s more like him, but in a way it’s too clumsy,
particularly at this sort of scale.” With the grand lisp of a connoisseur,
he continued, “What somebody’s done is painted a very flat picture and decided
to, as it were, put a bit of impasto on it to make it look like Turner.”
G: "And the pinky hues of the sky?"
M: "Oh! That’s all right, that’s all right. I mean he’s looked at his Turners. But I think he was deliberately painting for somebody, who didn’t know, in the 19th century, a possible sketch, a precursor for the main picture [Ehrenbrietstein, The Bright Stone of Honour]. Turner hardly ever did [this sort of thing], but who’s to know?”
Graham’s point was laid to rest by muttered uncertainty over whether Turner would have done a preliminary sketch as a model for a major painting such as Ehrenbrietstein. But what about the sky! The point over the “pinky hues” was significant; this was not recognized as a unique characteristic at the time of Graham's enquiry, but a Ruskin quote that was discovered subsequently brought the importance of this point clearly into focus: “The peculiar innovation of Turner was the perfection of the colour chord by means of scarlet. Other painters had rendered the golden tones and the blue tones of sky, but none had dared to paint, none seemed to have seen, the scarlet and purple.”[iv]
G continued: "I don’t know if you’ve noticed, you probably have, that Turner uses his fingers quite a bit."
There was impatiently agreement as Graham continued, “So he leaves a lot of his finger prints in the trees so that....” In an abrupt about-face, perhaps sensing a trap, Martin cut in and started talking about how Turner grew his thumbnail long to scratch marks into the wet paint. He ignored Graham’s concluding point that the painting did in fact have fingerprints in the tree. After undue persistence Graham finally got his point across at which point he was disparaged: “I think you’ll find it to be that of Mussolini.”
In keeping with the comment about scratches into the wet paint left by the artist’s thumbnail: clearly seen below are a series of gashes across the mountain face and sky. These were likely done with either a thumbnail, or the end of a brush which was another common practice for the artist. The following figures show two examples of the more dramatic scratching into the wet paint.
Horizontal scratches (center bottom) into the wet impasto
Detail of the sky showing a large horizontal scratch
done while the paint was wet.
In this enlarged detail of the Orrock Ehrenbrietstein the artist’s technique of smudging the first layer of leaves with his finger or thumb then applying a further layer of clearly defined leaves, effectively develops volume in space and gives a feeling of motion to the foliage. Some of the fingerprint ridges are quite distinct. W.L Wyllie, Turner’s artist biographer noticed similar smudging but apparently did not realize it was done with fingertips. Nonetheless, he describes Turner’s similar intentions, punctuating his discovery with a contemporary critique: “One peculiarity of the artist’s which has been noticed is that the further branches on the trees are painted pale and faint, as though they were fronds of seaweed seen through muddy water. I have no doubt that this was purposely done to produce an allusion and to make the spectator fancy that the back part of the foliage was really away in the distance. In these days, when stern realism is the fashion, to us moderns this sort of artifice seems a little strained”[v] This was written in 1905."
Orrock Ehrenbrietstein, signed and dated lower left, I.M.W.Turner R.A. 1817
Art World’s Dirty Little Secret
James Orrock: same previous owner Shipwreck, the Rescue Turner Catalogue Raisonne
Connoisseurship Hands: the Orrock Ehrenbrietstein or Butlin visit
[i] Walter Thornbury, Life of J. M. W. Turner, R.A., (Hurst and Blackett, Publishers, London, 1862), vol. 2, 165-6.
[ii] Graham Reynolds, Turner, (London: Thames and Hudson, 1969), 27.
[iii] Walter Thornbury, Life of J. M. W. Turner, R.A., (Hurst and Blackett, Publishers, London, 1862), vol. 2, 312.
[iv] Helen S. Conant (from Ruskin), J.M.W. Turner, (extract from Harper’s Monthly Magazine: 1878; published in Master-In-Art series by Bates and Guild Company, Boston, nov 1902), 29.
[v] W. L. Wyllie A.R.A., J.M.W. Turner, (G. Bell & Sons, London, 1905), 69-70.