The Drawing Cabinet

Turner established his name as a painter of watercolours, retaining a lifelong commitment to the medium and giving it equal prominence to his work in oils. By the beginning of the nineteenth century, his technical mastery of watercolour outshone anything achieved by earlier artists. In the 1810s he began to lay out his planned watercolour images as blocks or bands of colour. The resulting studies are now known as ‘colour beginnings’. Some are preparation for specific works, but in many others he was trying out different effects of light or atmosphere.

The initial ideas for many of Turner’s paintings can be found in the sketchbooks he filled throughout his life. Generally he worked in pencil, gathering impressions as he travelled, adding watercolour when time permitted. The final settlement of Turner’s will saw the contents of his studio given to the British nation. As well as oil sketches and unfinished canvases, nearly 300 sketchbooks and countless pieces of paper on which he had drawn or painted were also included.