The Bladders In Turner’s Paintbox

In June 2014 Tamara and I went to an exhibition at the National Gallery in London entitled ‘Making Colour’

It examined the way artists have used the distribution of colour in paintings to bring out their brilliance. It is a science; a science of the colour wheel and of primary colours and complimentary colours.

One of the exhibits that caught my eye was Turner’s paintbox. It was divided into square compartments and in each of them was what looked like a small bottle.

However, each ‘bottle’ was misshapen, as though it had been squeezed and deformed. And the neck of each container was bound with twine.

I asked the staff whether they knew what the containers were made of and left the question with them, and subsequently received an email answering my question:

Thank you for completing a Comments Form on 19 June 2014 regarding Turner’s paintbox in the Making Colour exhibition.

I have been in contact with the Director of Collections and Curator of the exhibition Ashok Roy who has provided me with the following response:

The traditional method for storing prepared oil paints before tubes were fully commercialised from 1841 was in ’pigs’ bladders’, by which is meant a bit of intestine (like a sausage casing), tied off with twine.

The paint was squeezed out through a hole made by a metal tack, and re-sealed with the tack. This is the form of the paint container in the Turner box.