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Collaboration with Tate Gallery

Some years ago Tony was appointed as a Visiting Artist Researcher at the Tate Britain in London.  There, he is collaborating with Senior Conservation Scientist, Dr Joyce Townsend, in research into the materials and methods of JMW Turner (1775 - 1851).  Turner is still widely regarded as the greatest of the British watercolourists  and this project involves  recreation of papers appropriate to Turner's era,  recreation of paints and, with Tony's help, recreation of Turner's painting methods.  It is hoped that this project will help to ensure better conservation of original watercolours, a better understanding of Turner and give Tate further tools in their mission to help painters, students, reseachers and the public build an understanding of Turner's outstanding contribution to watercolour.  Tony contributed to "How to Paint Like Turner" from Tate publications in 2011 and is now co-authoring "The Tate Watercolour Manual : Lessons from the Great Masters" with Joyce Townsend (due for publication 2013 from Tate Publishing. Image




Although Turner's painting techniques have always been seen as mysterious - partly because the artist was not focussed on teaching -  he did leave the contents of his studio to the British Nation so that others could study them, make copies and come to an understanding of how they were created.  The bulk of this collection is now housed in a specially built gallery and research institution known as The Clore Gallery at Tate Britain.

It  includes over 20,000 works on paper: including watercolours, hundreds of sketch books and the artist's notes, sketches, studies, colour studies and personal research into watercolour and other media. 

Tony Smibert's involvement with Turner since the early 1990's has been based on the idea that one of the best ways to learn anything is to 'apprentice' yourself to the best exponent which, in the case of watercolour and Turner, meant travelling to Tate Britain whenever possible to study Turner 'originals' and then going to places where Turner worked and comparing the physical location to the sketches that Turner made there en plein air and his later colour studies and finished art.

Preparing paints in the Tasmanian studios

Another outcome of Tony's work is hoped to be a proposed documentary series in association with Tate Media featuring the above research, bringing Turner to life through his watercolours and within the context of his era - a time of great turmoil - and a number of publications from Tate, including the recently published "how to Paint Like Turner" by Ian Warrell and Nicola Mooreby featuring a number of sections by Tony.     Now (in 2012) Tate Publications has commissioned a new book by Tony and Joyce with the working title of The Tate Watercolour Manual: Learning From the Great Masters   

Working from a Turner sketchbook at Tate

PRESS RELEASE (Dr Joyce Townsend April, 2008) 



Tony Smibert, an original and talented watercolour artist based in Deloraine, Tasmania, is working with Dr Joyce Townsend, senior conservation scientist at Tate* on a unique project. Tony’s art has been inspired both by J M W Turner (British, 1775-1851) and by Japanese art, calligraphy and philosophy.


Joyce has spent over twenty years researching the materials and artistic methods used by Turner, and communicating them to the public. Trained in physics and technical art history, her skills as a conservation scientist includes analysing tiny dots of paint used by Turner, a knowledge of the history of artists’ materials, and an understanding of how they lose colour or otherwise change over time. She says: ‘Turner was an innovative and influential artist who developed modern watercolour methods as we understand them today, and who brought the colour and transparency of newly-invented artists’ colours into both oil and watercolour medium. His work has spoken to generations of artists as well as to millions of visitors to Tate, every year.  Many of them ask How did he do it? To answer this fully, it’s necessary to work with another artist skilled in the same medium.  Tony brings to our collaborative projects a unique combination of sympathy with the artist through close observation of his work, a high level of mastery of watercolour painting, and the ability to communicate about art and painting to people of all ages and levels of experience as artists.  He often does this through painting demonstrations as well as words.’


The upper dish contains Turner's own Prussian Blue from his studio


The first collaborative project will be a Tate book currently tilted How to Paint Like Turner. Tony will be working with Tate curators, conservation scientists, and a Turner family member, to produce a book with a new and unique take on Turner. (The book will be out in 2009.) Future plans include DVDs and web-based material, involving film of Tony working as Turner might have done.


Joyce has come to Tasmania to take part in one of Tony’s annual watercolour courses for aspiring artists, so that she can better understand how much a practised artist can make his materials do.  She has brought specially-made historic papers and artists’ materials such as pigments with her.  Joyce and Tony will be exploring the ways these materials work when you paint with them.  Modern artists only know about modern materials.  This collaboration will give them not only an insight, but eventually demonstrations, targeted coaching and information on how they could also paint more like Turner, if they choose.


Tony says ‘Turner remains one of the most admired watercolourists of all time.   How he painted has been somewhat lost to us and so it’s really exciting to be involved in a project of this calibre which will hopefully make Turner’s methods of working more accessible to artists, the public, students and curators.  Working at Tate in amongst Turner’s originals and occasionally using Turner’s own paints to create watercolours myself, is something of a dream come true.  Joyce is one of the world’s leading authorities on Turner’s methods and it’s an honour to be hosting her here in Tasmania.’

Tony conducts seasonal art courses at Mountford Granary Art School.  Mountford is an historic rural property (1832) just outside Longford in Northern Tasmania.  Its beautiful landscape and heritage buildings have been attracting artists for over one hundred and fifty years.  The Art School was established twenty years ago with an initial focus on watercolour and now draws artists and art students from around the world for a range of courses catering to all levels - from those who've never painted to well established professionals.  


* Tate used to be known as the Tate Gallery, London. Now the organisation includes Tate Britain, which houses the national collection of British art, including Turner bequest (comprising 300 oil paintings, over 30,000 works on paper, a study room devoted to Turner and British Art, and Turner memorabilia such as the materials left in his studio when he died in 1851. Tate Modern, London, Tate Liverpool in the north of England and Tate St Ives in Cornwall, England, display the national collection of modern and contemporary art. The Conservation Science section is part of the 60-strong Tate Conservation Department. See www.tate.org.uk for more information about Tate’s collections, including images of all its 80,000-plus artworks: paintings, works on paper, sculpture and time-based media.

Tasmanian Art Holidays. Dates for watercolour workshops, Artists’ Road and special Techniques of Turner masterclass in 2014.

‘How to Paint like Turner’ is available from leading bookshops and online.  The new ‘Tate Watercolour Manual: Lessons from the Great Masters’ is completed with publication by Tate now due for Feb/March next year. 

ABC TV Coverage

The recent lectures, workshops, masterclasses and a professional development seminar at the  Art Gallery of South Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery and Australia Watercolour Association in connection with Turner from the Tate: the Making of a Master were all a great success, along with the wonderfully received, Turner and the Sublime: the Performance, with international concert pianist, Ambre Hammond. 


Tasmanian Art Holidays Dates for watercolour workshops, Artists' Road and special Techniques of Turner masterclass  2014 (click here for Art School)

Last updated 3 September 2013.

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