Monday, 22 September 2014

Late Turner Exhibition

fig.1, J.M.W. Turner, Rain, 
Steam, and Speed – The Great Western Railway,
1844, ©The National Gallery, London
Rain, Steam and Speed – The Great Western Railway (fig.1) is a masterpiece landscape that radiates in Western European art history. It is the work of Joseph Mallord William Turner who continues to be regarded as one of Britain’s greatest painters. A steam locomotive spewing steam, a symbol of modernization, is crossing the Maidenhead railway bridge across the Thames in the rain. The painting skillfully portrays the light and movement of the wind to depict the fast speed of the train. A hare desperately crosses the tracks in front of the locomotive while to the left, a lone boat floats on the Thames. Both are in contrast to the modernity and speed of the steam locomotive. How old was Turner when he created his work that signaled the unveiling of the modern painting? Was he a youth brimming with vibrant sensitivity or man of mellow maturity?

Turner painted this landscape in 1844, the year he turned 69. Having joined the Royal Academy -- the authority of the British art world -- when he was barely 26 years old, Turner could be described as having evolved at an early age. But he remained devoted to his art, and he continued to pursue new forms of expression until the end of his life at age 76.

fig.2, J.M.W. Turner, Ancient Rome;
Agrippina Landing with the Ashes of Germanicus,
exhibited 1839, oil paint on canvas, support: 914 x 1219 mm,
frame: 1230 x 1530 x 140 mm, Tate.
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
The Tate Britain in London is currently showing the exhibit Late Turner focusing on the works of Turner between the years of 1835, when he turned 60, until his death in 1851. Centered on the paintings at Tate, which boasts the world’s largest Turner collection, the exhibit displays 150 works including pieces from galleries around the world.

Turner’s subject matters ranged from historical landscapes of mythology and historic events to familiar settings of the outskirts of London. In fact, he did not stay within Britain, but painted the sceneries of Venice, the ancient ruins of Rome and various other places that he visited (fig.2). Turner’s subject matters were broad, but what remains constant in his work is his pursuit of the expression of light. In his late works, Turner attempts to dissolve everything into a space of brimming light. This method of expression of light was criticized as too radical at the time but would later have a strong influence on Monet and other impressionist painters. Still today these late works are regarded as the most acclaimed of Turner’s paintings.

The pieces in Late Turner show no sign of gloom or decline in enthusiasm due to age. What we see is Turner vigorously continuing to capture in light, the dramatic changes in the natural world and the transfigurations of life under modernization.

Late Turner: until January 25, 2015. Open daily.

Tate Britain
London SW1P 4RG
United Kingdom
Opening times:
10:00-18:00 daily