ColorTherapy: J. M. W. Turner / Farrow & Ball at the Met

ColorTherapy: J. M. W. Turner / Farrow & Ball at the Met

Mark Chamberlain
Sep 23, 2008

The Met's blockbuster summer show this year was J. M. W. Turner, and era-appropriate paint colors were provided for the galleries by Farrow & Ball. Although the show closed last week, I did get my hands on some installation photos so that we might look at a 19th century palette in context...

Turner worked from the very late 1700's to about 1850, and was known as a lush colorist. I was never his biggest fan, but I enjoyed many of the tumultuous seascapes on view here so much that I thought I'd share a few pictures. Much of the F&B palette is derived from the same period, and their color card is descriptively annotated as to when and where colors originated and includes suggestions for their uses. For example: "Ointment Pink No.21…dating to the early years of the 19th century…similar to the Regency scheme in the entrance hall and staircase at Castle Coole."

On the whole, the galleries are painted in portrait gallery reds, grey greens and dark neutrals. I'll be matching info from two different press kits, but I think I've finally got the colors right. We begin our tour with a room full of large early seascapes. Writhing storms and shipwrecks look smashing against Green Smoke 47. It's a dark and mysterious color that matches the tenor of the paintings completely. The F&B catalogue notes its popularity in the second half of the 19th Century.

I know from elsewhere that the British favored red for portrait galleries in the Victorian era, and red suits the themes of the paintings in these galleries. There is a slight element of conflict to some of the paintings shown here, either in nautical scenes of naval victories, or classical themes such as The Decline of the Carthaginian Empire. At home, try Picture Gallery Red 42 ("Based on the Picture Gallery at Attingham Park, but much cleaner and a solid not a varnished color").

One entire gallery is composed of Turner's paintings of the burning of the House of Parliament. This is the darkest wall color, Down Pipe 26. It's another evening grey, which sustains the night atmosphere and focuses attention on the fire, both as color and content. It's like we're there at night watching the building burn.

Lastly, these are late paintings, where Turner's form becomes almost purely abstract and his color is most undiluted. I loved the palette of burnt umber and sienna in his paintings, as seen in this snowstorm at sea. Again, the wall color of London Clay 244 is handsome, period-correct and complements the paintings.

Photos courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art

- Mark Chamberlain, interior and decorative painter

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