Late Turner: Painting Set Free is the first major exhibition to survey the achievements of the last works of J.M.W. Turner (1775–1851). The exhibition reassesses Turner’s extraordinary body of work during his final period (1835–50) when some of his most celebrated works were created.
Beginning in 1835, the year that Turner reached 60, and closing with his last exhibits at the Royal Academy in 1850, the exhibition demonstrates how his closing years were a time of exceptional energy and vigour, initiated by one of his most extensive tours of Europe. Bringing together 150 works from the UK and abroad, it seeks to challenge assumptions around the idea of the ‘elderly’ artist, as well as his radical techniques, processes and materials during this productive time.
The show includes such iconic works as Ancient Rome; Agrippina Landing with the Ashes of Germanicus exh. 1839, The Wreck Buoy 1849 and Heidelberg: Sunset c.1840 (Manchester City Galleries). Rather than focusing on any assumptions about the pessimism of old age, Turner maintained his commitment to the observation of nature. He brought renewed energy to the exploration of the social, technological and scientific developments of modern life, in works such as Rain, Steam, and Speed - The Great Western Railway 1844. He also continued to engage with the religious and historical themes that linked him to the cultural traditions of his era.
Featuring many large-scale oil paintings alongside drawings, prints and watercolour, the exhibition addresses the sheer range of materials and techniques he embraced. It also demonstrates his radicalism during this period - while his Victorian contemporaries were exploring other priorities, he continued to champion an unfettered creativity in which material practice was not just medium but meaning and message too. He consciously developed his style and technique with each subsequent painting he produced. These works were often poised equivocally between finished and unfinished, for example in a series of reworkings in oil of subjects originally published as prints in his Liber Studiorum.
During his final period Turner continued to widen his exposure in the marketplace. From pictures of the whaling industry in the 1840s to ‘sample studies’ and finished watercolours such as The Blue Rigi, Sunrise 1842 (Tate), he constantly sought to demonstrate his appeal to new admirers, led by John Ruskin who famously described Turner as ‘the greatest of the age.’
Curated by Sam Smiles, Professor of Art History and Visual Culture, Exeter University, with David Blayney Brown, Manton Curator of British Art 1790–1850, Tate Britain and Amy Concannon, Assistant Curator 1790–1850, Tate Britain.
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