Climate and Colour
Chichester Canal c.1829, J. M. W. Turner, Tate Gallery
As Turner grew older his paintings became increasingly atmospheric, with broadly applied washes of paint creating movement and mood. The palette for his Chichester Canal, painted some time between 1827 and 1831 is dominated by strong yellows and ochres – but there may be more behind his choice of colours than a desire for drama.
In 1816, the planet experienced severe climate abnormalities, with a drop in average global temperatures spelling agricultural disaster for parts of the United States, Canada and Western Europe. It became known as the “Year Without Summer” and was triggered by the eruption the previous year of Mount Tambora, a volcano on the Indonesian island of Sumbawa.
The ash was perhaps responsible for more than global cooling: the particles are believed to have given the sky over England a yellow tint, reproduced by Turner in his painting. Today, you can see the picture on display in its original home at Petworth House in West Sussex, once the residence of George Wyndham, 3rd Earl of Egremont, who was a friend of the artist and commissioned the work.