Late Turner: Painting Set Free at Tate Britain
Bursting with frenzies of colour, dazzling golden hues and startling paradox, Tate Britain’s collection of JMW Turner’s last works from 1836 – when Tuner was 60 – challenge preconceptions of aging, topple assumptions of Turner’s place within the artistic cannon and allow us to focus directly upon his evolving style.
Turner is often labelled the father of modernist art, a precursor to abstract painting and an antecedent impressionist. He has been explored in many forms from his historical and mythological studies to his sea and landscape painting; yet this marks the first time that Turner’s later works have been exhibited in such a comprehensive manner. Late Turner upsets many preconceptions associated with the great painter; detailed historical scenes are awash with idiosyncratic technique and feeling, while modernism exudes from every angle indicating a painter who pushed the boundaries of Romanticism to such an extent that to label him a forerunner to impressionism is devastatingly inadequate.
Grouped thematically the exhibition houses a vast mix of styles with soft watercolours positioned next to staggering biblical scenes and elegant city views abutting dark, tempestuous storms of colour. The effect is dizzying, catapulting us into Turner’s vibrant and complex psyche.
Turner belies his years transforming ancient myths into optical marvels with modernist twists, such as the loose, fluid brush work of The Death of Actaeon, while contemporary events such as a burning Houses of Parliament are realised in haunting fiery clouds. Turner was one of the first artists to explore the great inventions and industries of the period. Rain, Steam and Speed shows a train looming through a sublime landscape amid swirling steam and smoke, while A Harpooned Whale is a sinister depiction of the whaling industry with swathes of scarlet streaming through the cloudy sea.
The greatest features are Turner’s nine square paintings, created in the early 1840s and displayed together for the very first time. The paintings interact with each other exploring contrasting themes as well as mythical, biblical and modern subjects. Experimentations with form and colour give unbridled intensity, particularly the Morning after the Deluge, an exploration of light and shade in kaleidoscopic warm tones with Moses’ spectral figure floating in its midst.
Stunning and beguiling, Late Turner is a culmination of Turner’s ongoing experimentation and ever-evolving style. Hauntingly beautiful, these staggering portrayals of subject, technique and colour will remain etched in the mind long after you leave the Tate.
Photos: Rosie Yang
Late Turner: Painting Set Free is at Tate Britain from 10th September 2014 until 25th January 2015, for further information visit here.
Watch assistant curator Amy Concannon talk about the exhibition here: