Must see exhibition: Late Turner, Tate Britain opens this week
Late Turner, Tate Britain sees the British Master newly appreciated for his radical works. Here's what not to miss at this once-in-a-lifetime exhibition
Late Turner, Tate Britain sees the British Master newly appreciated for his radical works. Here's your guide what not to miss at this once in a life time exhibition writes Alice Godwin
This first exhibition to focus upon Turner’s later work uniquely snubs the image of the senile, elderly artist. Instead Turner emerges as a figure of constant energy, pictured furiously sketching on a lake in the Italian countryside and filling his sketchbooks during fervent trips to mainland Europe. For the artist that ‘took no prisoners’, according to curator Sam Smiles, painting is radically ‘set free’ with the liberation of old age.
Turner, past and present
Turner’s fascination with historical and contemporary subjects provides rich, contemplative narratives for us to consider, ranging from the legacy of Napoleon and the modern state of Italy to the whaling industry, steam power and the fires of the Palace of Westminster and Tower of London. You might recognise the famous ‘Rain, Steam and Speed’, a triumphant reflection of new technology which pictures a train puffing its way along the tracks. Similarly well regarded is Turner’s ‘Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons, 16th October 1834’ where the licks of hot flames and the falling of ash and cinder are palpable.
Turner the constant traveller
Amongst these large oil paintings are delicate watercolours from Turner’s travels to Venice and Rome, popular destinations for the middle classes in the 19th century. Whilst patrons and critics alike criticised Turner for his questionable grasp of topography and wash of ‘chromomania’, these images of the floating city now appear as miraculous mirages, dissolving into the horizon as tiny figures scurry along the water’s edge to their boats. Worth a second look are also Turner’s unfinished watercolours from later in the 1840s which possess a similar delicacy.
Turner's square canvases
Other paintings not to be missed are the square canvases, seen to be the ramblings of a doddering old man, but are an outstanding moment of innovation from Turner. Amongst these compressed paintings look out for ‘Dawn of Christianity’, where the snake of temptation slithers into the bottom corner of the canvas, the burst of light in ‘The Angel standing in the sun’ and the solemn portrait of Napoleon in ‘War. The Exile and the Rock Limpet’.
Dotted across the exhibition’s celebration of mood and light are the wonderfully eccentric stories that tell us about Turner, the man. Highlight include Turner’s request to his friends to call him Admiral Booth and the tale that he lashed himself to the mast of a ship for four hours to observe the storm pictured in ‘Snow Storm- Steamboat off a Harbour’s Mouth’. These anecdotes will delight and bring Turner’s already ground-breaking work to life.
Turner film and inspiration
The exhibition comes at the same time as Mike Leigh’s anticipated and award-winning film on Turner starring Timothy Spall in the eponymous role. Olafur Eliasson's response to Turner is also on display down the hall in the Tate Britain.
Late Turner - Painting sets free (10th September - 25th January)
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