2015 will begin at the Scottish National Gallery, with the opening of Turner in January, an exhibition of the outstanding collection of Turner watercolours bequeathed in 1900 by Sir Henry Vaughan. The work Joseph Mallord William Turner as Britain’s most celebrated artist has enjoyed a huge boost in the last few months, and is currently hot property after the success of the recent movie Mr Turner, directed by Mike Leigh which premiered at the Venice Film Festival to rave reviews. Its subject is the great British Romantic landscape artist, Joseph Mallard William Turner, focusing on the artist’s later work which transcended Romanticism and anticipated 20th-century abstraction.
There was also a blockbuster exhibition of the artist’s late works at Tate Britain in London. In fact Turner had a very impressive 2014, culminating in an auction at Sotheby’s London, where one of the last great Turner masterpieces remaining in private hands set a world auction record for the artist, selling for a staggering £30.3 million.
For Turner aficionados, the annual exhibition of 38 superb watercolours is a much-loved tradition at the Scottish National Gallery in Edinburgh taking place for more than a century.
Sir Henry Vaughan was a London art collector with a love for Turner. He stipulated that the works from his collection, that had been amassed with great consideration, should be ‘exhibited to the public all at one time, free of charge, during the month of January’, to limit their exposure to strong daylight. The display runs throughout the month and brings a welcome injection of light and colour during the darkest month of the year.
Sanjay Singh, Trusts Manager at People’s Postcode Lottery, stated, “We are delighted that our players are continuing to support National Galleries of Scotland – and especially the Turner in January exhibition, which has not only become a firm favourite with a huge number of long-standing visitors to the Galleries, but also grabs the attention of so many new visitors each and every year. By supporting fantastic organisations like the Galleries players are ensuring that works of renowned artists, such as Turner, remain accessible to all.”
Turner was born in London in 1775, the son of a barber and wig-maker, and proved himself as an accomplished draughtsman at an early age. He first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1790. From the 1790s onwards the artist undertook sketching tours in England, Wales and Scotland, gathering material for watercolours and oil paintings, and discovering the attractions of awe-inspiring mountainous landscapes, which became a major pre-occupation in his work. He made his first journey to Europe in 1802, and from 1817, after the end of the Napoleonic wars, made annual visits across the Channel for much of the rest of his life.
The works in the Vaughan bequest show how Turner exploited every possibility of the watercolour medium, and range from early wash drawings of the 1790s, to the colourful, expressive late works executed on visits to the Swiss Alps during the 1830s and 1840s. Other highlights of the show include a series of spectacular views of Venice made during Turner’s third and final stay in the city in 1840 – these works demonstrate the artist’s mastery of atmospheric lighting effects.
This year the exhibition will also feature a very fine watercolour on loan to the Gallery from a private collection. Virginia Water is one of a pair of views of the royal pleasure grounds and grand artificial lake in Windsor Great Park executed by Turner for King George IV in about 1829.
Also on display in this year’s exhibition will be Turner’s spectacular 1820 view of Rome, Rome from Monte Mario, after the work was accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to the Gallery in 2011.