A number of important paintings by the British artist JMW Turner have returned home to Tate Britain following a major international tour. Having travelled over 12,000 miles and been seen by over three-quarters of a million people in the UK, USA and Canada as part of The EY Exhibition: Late Turner – Painting Set Free, these masterpieces go back on show today in a new free display. Returning works include much-loved oil paintings like Norham Castle – Sunrise c.1845, Peace – Burial at Sea exhib.1842, and The Dogano, San Giorgio exhib.1842. The new display features over 100 works across eight rooms of the Clore Gallery at Tate Britain, the home of Turner’s work in the UK.
One of Britain’s most renowned artists, Turner is a key figure in the history of painting and an inspiration to many generations of artists. The three central spaces of the Clore Gallery present an overview of the major paintings he exhibited during his lifetime. They include spectacular images such as Snow Storm: Hannibal and his Army Crossing the Alps 1812 and Peace – Burial at Sea exhib.1842. Turner’s Self-Portrait c.1799, which will feature on the Bank of England’s new £20 banknote, is also be a highlight of these galleries. The painting depicts the artist as a young man and is believed to mark his election as an Associate of the Royal Academy at the age of 24. Turner was selected for the new banknote design in April 2016 after a public nomination period and deliberation by the Banknote Character Advisory Committee.
Located on either side of this central display, four smaller galleries present themed groups of work. One room brings together scenes from Turner’s travels around Britain – from the Lake District in Cumbria to the Tamar Valley in Devon to St Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh – while another room explores his European tours to France, Germany and Italy, showcasing luminous visions of Venice including The Sun of Venice Going to Sea 1843. A group of the radical late works found in the artist’s studio after his death are shown together, including loosely painted landscapes and atmospheric images of light and shade such as Norham Castle – Sunrise c.1845, as will some of his most celebrated depictions of stormy seas and breaking waves.
There is also a new display of the artist’s works on paper, chosen from the thousands of sketches and watercolours held in Tate Britain’s Prints and Drawings Room. This selection focuses on Turner’s treatment of urban scenes from cities such as London, Paris, Naples, Rome and Venice.
The Clore Gallery rehang marks the return of many of Turner’s best loved works to Tate Britain, following the hugely successful tour of The EY Exhibition: Late Turner – Painting Set Free. This exhibition set a new record as the most popular solo show ever held at Tate Britain, receiving 267,704 visitors from 10 September 2014 to 25 January 2015. It went on to be seen by nearly half a million more visitors on its North American tour, including 192,011 at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles (24 February – 24 May 2015), 165,989 at the de Young Museum, San Francisco (20 June – 20 September 2015) and 138,510 at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto (31 October 2015 – 30 January 2016).
Joseph Mallord William Turner was the outstanding British artist of the early 19th century and is widely regarded as the greatest British painter before the modern age. Born in 1775, the son of a London barber, he entered the Royal Academy Schools at the age of fourteen in 1789 and soon emerged as a prodigy, becoming an Associate of the RA in 1799 and full Academician in 1802. Late in life he served as the RA’s Acting President. For many years he dominated their exhibitions, with works spanning landscape, history, modern life and the technologies of the steam age. He was a superlatively gifted watercolourist and a prolific designer of prints and book illustrations. He travelled widely, first visiting France and Switzerland in 1802 and returning often to Continental Europe after the Napoleonic War. Long admired, later works like The Fighting Temeraire 1839 caught the spirit of the age as no other painter could. Others were controversial and even ridiculed for their highly personal imagery, vibrant colour and radical techniques, qualities that have since seemed to anticipate Impressionism, Abstraction or Expressionism.
An essentially private man who lived for his work, and died rich but had often looked poor, his character remained enigmatic while colleagues praised his ‘wonderful range of mind’. For many years he kept a Turner’s Gallery adjoining his London house to show his pictures, and retained 100 to leave as a permanent memorial ideally at the National Gallery. Five years after he died in 1851, these were joined by the entire contents of his house and studio to form the Turner Bequest, now mainly housed in the Clore Gallery at Tate Britain and also represented by a group of pictures (including The Fighting Temeraire) at the National Gallery.
Tate Britain houses the world’s largest collection of Turner’s work. It is home to the Turner Bequest, comprising 300 oil paintings and many thousands of sketches and watercolours (including 300 sketchbooks). The paintings showcase the breadth of Turner’s output in oils and contain many celebrated works. They range from his early experiments in the medium such as Moonlight, a study at Millbank (exhibited 1797), through to large-scale exhibition pieces including Rome, from the Vatican (exhibited 1820), and later, more impressionistic works such as Snow Storm – Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth (exhibited 1842). Providing an insight into Turner’s methods, the drawings, watercolours and sketchbooks allow us to track the development of Turner’s ideas and to document his travels around the UK and Europe. In the watercolours we see Turner evolve from boyhood (Folly Bridge from Bacon’s Tower 1787 for example) to mature master and one of the greatest artists Britain has ever known, in works such as The Blue Rigi, Sunrise 1842.
Image credit: Joseph Mallord William Turner Courtesy Tate Britain