Published: April 10, 2002
BALTIMORE, MD. – The Baltimore Museum of Art brings the first major exhibition of the work of J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851) in more than a decade to its only American venue. “: Paintings and Watercolors by J.M.W. Turner from Tate,” on view through May 26, includes more than 100 watercolors, oil paintings, drawings, and prints — many never before exhibited — that span virtually the entire career of this remarkable artist, considered the greatest British Romantic landscape painter of the Nineteenth Century.
Known for his mastery of capturing light and atmospheric effects on classical landscapes and misty cities, Turner tirelessly observed nature at work, attempting to recapture its effects in paint — never more powerfully than in his many late watercolors of stormy seas, shorelines washed in sunsets and breaking waves. His breathtaking examinations of the sea show him to be incredibly forward-thinking, and his later works proved to be a quarter-century ahead of the French Impressionists’ exploration of the subtle effects of light and atmosphere on landscapes.
The exhibit follows 40 years of Turner’s career as a painter, from remarkable academic paintings created in his youth to groundbreaking late works that capture the dazzling effects of light. The exhibition traces the evolution of Turner’s creative process through works from the artist’s private studio, including revealing color studies for paintings and engravings, sketches and extraordinary watercolors.
Turner established himself in the London art world before reaching the age of 20. The exhibition opens with his accomplished views of ships and shores, as seen in “Shipping at the Mouth of the Thames,” that preceded his development of a more original approach to landscape.
Between 1807 and 1819, Turner launched a grand print project to document the range of his work and promote the landscape genre. He made innumerable preparatory drawings for the project, from washes of color tones evoking the wind on the sea in “Storm in the Mediterranean” to detailed engravings of fishermen working along the coast.
While travel to the continent was restricted during the Napoleonic War, Turner spent his time touring and sketching scenes on his home soil of England. Pencil drawings from the artist’s own sketchbook, as well as dramatic watercolor studies of brooding skies and crashing waves, as seen in “Stormy Scene on the Coast,” define the basic color arrangements for his various sets of popular engravings.
Turner achieved wide popularity in the 1820s and 1830s with vignette book illustrations created to accompany the poetic works of Samuel Rogers, Sir Walter Scott, Lord Byron and Thomas Campbell. Examples of these minute masterpieces, such as “Tornaro” from “Roger’s Poems,” are surprising in the fineness of the details.
Turner’s artistic genius peaked between 1825 and 1845 with a series of works for engraving that exemplified the power of the sea and the elements. Nearly abstract watercolor studies of stormy seas, castles battered by storms and quiet sunrises — some no more than suggestive washes of color — set the stage for what is considered some of his finest work in watercolor.
The culmination of the exhibition is the late period of Turner’s work, beginning in the early 1830s, concerned with the painting of light and atmosphere. From the brightness of the sun through mist on the sea in the painting “Yacht Approaching Coast” to breathtaking watercolor studies of sea and sky, these radical works of pure color and light heralded the work of the Impressionists.
The exhibit is organized by Tate Gallery and curated by Ian Warrell, in collaboration with The Baltimore Museum of Art. Tate is a family of galleries in Britain that houses the national collection of British art from the Sixteenth Century to the present day, and international art of the Twentieth Century to the present.
The Turner exhibition will travel from The Baltimore Museum of Art to Fundación Juan March in Madrid (September 20 to January 19, 2003) and Museu Calouste Gulbenkian in Lisbon (mid-February to April 2003).
Turner and the Sea
The sea occupied Turner more than any other subject throughout his career. Whether tranquil or stormy, he recorded all of its various moods and repeatedly sought the means of giving expression to its endless ebb and flow.
The sea held special significance for Turner, as well as for the people of England. It represented England’s military might and isolation during the Napoleonic War, which ended in 1815, and acted as a protective barrier to its enemies across the Channel. It was in Turner’s marine subjects that the livelihoods of many Britons were recorded, and new technological developments, such as steamboats and railways, made their first appearance in works of art.
Despite the relevance of the sea in Turner’s work, there has been no thorough survey of his studies of the sea except a small-scale show at Tate in 1982. Only in recent years have scholars begun to reexamine these works, particularly the late sea pieces. Although Turner’s watercolors and sketches are highly regarded today, they were seldom seen during his lifetime. The exhibition in Baltimore is a rare opportunity to assess the deep impact made on Turner by his habitual scrutiny of sea and shore.
Joseph Mallord William Turner was born in 1775 in London, England. He began drawing and painting at the age of 12 and entered the Royal Academy schools in 1789. He had his first watercolor accepted for exhibition at age 15 and was elected an Associate of the Academy in 1799.
Turner traveled frequently, often sketching the areas he visited and submitting the finished works to the Royal Academy. He gained popular recognition by producing watercolors for a series of engravings for wide dissemination.
Selections of images that Turner considered to be his most important were compiled as engravings in Liber Studiorum. Between 1814 and 1830, Turner produced many drawings from his tours in England and abroad studying the effects of light and atmosphere on landscape, including works from the series “Picturesque Views on the Southern Coast of England” and “The Ports of England.”
Works from the 1830s marked a period of transition leading up to the more abstract conceptions of Turner’s last years. His artistic genius culminated between 1825 and 1845 with a series of marine paintings that exemplified the power of the sea and the elements. Turner died in 1851, and he was buried in St Paul’s Cathedral in London.
The Turner Bequest
Upon Turner’s death in 1851, the paintings, sketches and drawings that remained in his studio were bequeathed to England. He carefully planned what would be left to his country by retaining many works and purchasing back those he deemed important. The bequest offers insight into Turner’s mind and methods over his 60-year career.
The National Gallery, London, was initially given charge of the whole collection, containing 300 oil paintings and more than 20,000 drawings and watercolors, including some 300 sketchbooks. The bequest found its home in the purpose-built Clore Gallery at Tate in 1987. Tate counts Turner’s bequest among the highlights of its collection.
The Baltimore Museum of Art is open Wednesday through Friday, 11 am until 5 pm; Saturday and Sunday, 11 am until 6 pm; and the first Thursday of every month, 5 until 8 pm. The BMA is on Art Museum Drive at North Charles and 31st Streets. For exhibit tickets, 410-752-1200 or 800-551-SEAT. For information, 410-396-7100 or www.artbma.org.
5 Church Hill Road / Newtown, CT 06470
Mon - Fri / 8:00 am - 5:01 pm