Growing up in Kent, a trip to Margate beach brings back memories of avoiding jellyfish, penny slot machines and overdosing on ice-cream.
As kids, we thought it was a pretty good beach.
Mainly because it meant the freedom of the Summer holidays but also because of the huge expanse of sand we could run about on.
Turner thought it was a pretty good place too, becoming a regular visitor throughout his lifetime.
For him, it was the unique quality of light in East Kent, with impressive skies and turbulent sea that inspired his works.
You can read more about Turner’s life in this article: On Tate, Turner & Unlikely Partnerships.
The Turner Contemporary Gallery, Margate, Kent. I liked the comparison in scale and architecture between the sharp lines of the Turner contemporary and the rambling line over the townhouse in the lower right corner.
In 2011, Turner Contemporary gallery opened to celebrate Turner’s association with Margate and on my recent visit home I was lucky enough to catch ‘Turner Adventures in Colour Exhibition’. With more than 100 works in both oil and watercolour, it demonstrates Turner’s distinctive use of vibrant, bold and brilliant use of colour.
The exhibition includes views of Margate as well as his trips to Florence, Venice and his many travels abroad. There are also some of his art materials on display, along with his well-used travel watercolour palette and paint pans.
Sketching from inside the Turner Contemporary Gallery in Margate, Kent.
Pro tip: When I was looking around the exhibition, one of the gallery technicians was taking Lux meter readings around the paintings. Always interested in a Lux reading, I enquired what the painting levels were set at. It was amazingly low for the palettes and art material on display – around 30-50 Lux and no more than 200 Lux for the oil paintings.
On Turner’s many return trips to Margate, he stayed in a guesthouse overlooking the beach.
The Turner Contemporary Gallery is built on the very site of Mrs Booth’s guesthouse where Turner stayed on his visits during the 19th century, so the views from the first-floor window are the same views that he would have seen – giving us a frame to the skies Turner would have been inspired by.
J.M.W Turner, Waves Breaking on a Shore, Oil on Canvas, c.1835
With some of the smaller pieces, you can get a good insight into Turner’s working method. He often had a balance of thin and thick passages of colour.
On one of the exhibition information sheets, it said that some of the exhibited pieces were unintentionally flattened during the 19th Century conservation treatment. This study had the full texture intact and noted that Turner mixed in a ‘Meglip’ with his oil paint to give the paint a greater body.
J.M.W Turner, Waves Breaking on a Shore (Detail), Oil on Canvas, c.1835
Meglip is traditionally a Resin and Linseed Oil medium but you can buy modern equivalents that use a quick drying Alkyd Resin. This enables you to add thicker texture to your oil paints without a super long drying time.
Sketching the sky from the sea wall.
Even on windy days, the skies over Margate seem to hang in the air. The cloud formations and shifts in colour are very subtle (especially on overcast days!) and they have that beautiful watercolour quality.
Heading home from Margate, I couldn’t resist pulling over and taking this amazing sunset over East Kent
“…the skies over Thanet are the loveliest in all Europe” – J.M.W Turner
Inspired by the exhibition, I captured this Sunset over Biddulph Moor, with these really beautiful blue hues.
It’s always best to try and vary the shapes of the clouds in your paintings, to draw the viewer through your works, but this sky over my studio felt so orderly I had to capture it.
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