Artists using Winsor & Newton materials

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Some of J.M.W. Turner’s paints came from Winsor & Newton because he was a very early adopter of new materials, and the company an early supplier. Pigments from his studio are now at Tate Britain, but no Winsor & Newton labels have survived. He tended to decant dried pigments into old medicine bottles that still had their old labelling. Turner knew George Field, a chemist who produced and sold many new shades of red lake colours: the studio pigments include 12 shades based on madder and 5 lakes made from other dyes. The shade range, from brownish reds through scarlet and crimson to bluish reds, was impressive but some would lose colour or turn brown. Mr Winsor once warned him about impermanence in relation to the colours he chose to buy.

Winsor & Newton would republish many updated editions of Field’s 1835 book Chromatography later in the century; Newton was the friend and assistant of George Field. Before his death, Field gave him his notebooks recording his pigment tests. As a result, Winsor & Newton could offer a narrower colour range of better lake pigments with crimson and purple tones, more resistant to fading. The familiar shade of rose madder was always available, but the company improved its resistance to fading.

Turner is even better known for his use of yellow – some said he used far too much. Chrome yellow, invented by the middle of his life, became a favourite. He used shades from pale yellow towards daffodil and orange, often in watercolours on blue paper, and by his old age began using a scarlet shade first made by Winsor & Newton in the 1840s, but not as yet discovered in his watercolours (there are thousands of them, not all investigated). His studio pigments do not include any tube watercolours, though they were made by Winsor & Newton in his last decade.

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The company’s steadily increasing range of watercolour pigments available in tubes from 1842 had made the painting of large-scale watercolours outdoors, as significant and saleable subjects, much easier. Tube watercolours facilitated the larger scale, brilliant colours and compete coverage of the paper that became the norm for watercolours during the 1850s and 1860s. Winsor & Newton sold vellum from 1860 for watercolour painting, as well as tinted papers: the smooth white surface of vellum beneath the rich, bodied brushstrokes of tube watercolours enabled brilliance of tone in the finished work that was comparable to oil painting.

J.A.M. Whistler’s materials survive in large quantities at the University of Glasgow. In Whistler’s archive, the tube and bottle labels are sometimes over-labelled by suppliers in Paris, which he regularly visited. The colour name and ‘Winsor & Newton’ a sign of quality, remained visible nonetheless. Whistler dashed off many notes but never mentioned his paints or his suppliers. John Singer Sargent, an even more successful portrait artist to the rich and famous than Whistler, turned in later life to charcoal sketching of sitters, and spent more time paintings landscapes outdoors, sometimes using oil but also using Winsor & Newton moist watercolours in tubes.

In the second half of the 20th century, Francis Bacon regularly used Winsor & Newton products as well. His early large-scale paintings, while described as ‘oil on canvas’, are often considered to include watercolour, gouache, pastel or wax crayon. When he was interviewed in the 1960s, he stated his preference for the company’s products. His last London studio, its outer edges silted up with many years of painting materials, tools and source material while the artist worked in the diminishing space in the middle, was removed layer by cluttered layer, and re-created in The Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin. Viewers can look through windows placed as they were in London, while the lowest layers of paints of all kinds, once completely hidden, are in an archive in that gallery.