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Feb 2013. TURNER, the Exhibition

21 February 2013

TURNER: The Exhibition
I was indeed fortunate last week to attend the opening of the works of J.M.W.Turner (1775 – 1851) at the Art Gallery of South Australia in Adelaide. On display were over 100 of his works, sourced principally from the Tate Britain galleries in London, but including some from Australian collections.
Turner is widely regarded as the most influential and innovative master painter in English history.
He was obviously born with a gift. At an early age he sold landscapes which he displayed in the window of his father’s barbershop, and in his teens Turner attended the Royal Academy of Art in London, where he had an exhibition in 1796 when he was just 21 years old.
Most of Turner’s early works were watercolours, though in mid-life he gave equal prominence to oils. But regardless of the medium used, it was the combinations of subject, style and colour which stood him apart from other artists. Indeed his works were considered revolutionary at the time. In particular the power of Turner’s paintings portraying the dramatic effects of nature such as thunderstorms, avalanches and rockfalls proved to be controversial, and his technique in using colour to dramatise such events was groundbreaking. Many of his works could be described as hazy and indistinct with a lack of detail being masked by the overall intensity of the subject. And yet he did have an observant eye for detail, and later works moderated from the early style to a more idyllic and passive reflection of life at the time. These may have been influenced by his appreciation for the works of Robert Cozens and Claude Lorrain.
By the time he was 30 years old, Turner was doing many works en-plein-air some 50 years ahead of his contemporaries, and in the decade from around 1810 he took advantage of the new technique of reproduction prints to market his landscapes and drawings.
In 1819 Turner visited Italy and was enchanted by the light and colours of the country. A return visit in 1828 when he visited Rome and painted in front of crowds brought forth some of his best work. His depiction of the light, with sunshine reflecting a golden glow from the buildings brought the comment that his paintings were ‘more Italian than Italy itself’.
Never content with his obvious success, Turner was always innovating, always experimenting with new styles. His technique was to see the subject to be painted as a mosaic of colour bands rather than as a jig-saw of outline shapes to be filled in. This method of visualising a scene in terms of colours rather than forms was unheard of previously.
By the 1830’s Turner had reverted to his earlier style. He had always had an affinity for the sea, and many of his later works depicted seascapes and naval vessels. These works were often dark, stormy and moody, yet still embraced the mastery of technique evident throughout his career.
My overall impression of the exhibition was one of heightened respect for a master painter who changed the way the establishment was exposed to art through the pioneering of a new and bold approach. Truly, one of history’s great masters.
Bob Stainlay

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  • What an amazing variety of quality art.

    Julie R from Yarraville, Melbourne
  • A glorious feast of creativity and colour, breathtaking! Thank you.

    Freya D from Chillingham
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