Cloud Study William Turner Buy Art Prints Now
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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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Cloud Study is an 1824 painting in watercolour by the renowned British artist JMW Turner.

Turner is famous for his works depicting the powerful forces of nature and also human industrial machinery such as steam trains and boats.

Turner used oils for some of his most famous paintings (such as Snow Storm and Great Western Railway), however for Cloud Study, he used watercolours in a rather innovative way.

The way in which Cloud Study was created began with a grey watercolour wash. Turner then used a soft material (perhaps a piece of cloth or sponge, or a paintbrush soaked in water, or perhaps a piece of bread) to 'rub out' the grey wash to reveal the white paper beneath it.

This created a 'highlighting' effect which gives the impression of a white cirrus cloud in a grey sky. Turner then added a darker shade around the edge of the cloud using chalk and some darker grey watercolour paint.

This darker wash gives the cloud a more three dimensional effect and perhaps suggests that a storm is brewing.

This art work is a 'study', i.e. a kind of preliminary or occasional drawing. Turner incorporated clouds into a vast number of finished paintings, and studies like Cloud Study may have helped him to do it.

It can be argued, however, that Cloud Study, which is catalogued by the Tate gallery in the UK, is a work of art in its own right. It has an abstract, simple feel to it that may make it seem to be more modern than it actually is.

We cannot know whether Turner felt the same about this artwork, or whether it was just an off the cuff piece that he created in an idle moment. One thing is intriguing about its appearance in his sketchbook, however.

This is the way in which Turner described the work: 'Puffs'. There is another word before 'Puffs', also beginning with P, but it is illegible.

The name Cloud Study is one that has been attributed by later curators. So, this begs the question: did Turner even think of this painting as a cloud, or as a 'puff' of steam or smoke?