My Inspiration Joseph Mallard William Turner


A self portrait of a young JMW Turner

They say that Art is in the eye of the beholder and that it’s of personal taste like perfume or music. Personally I find modern art hard to compute it leaves me cold. But there are two artists that have gotten under my skin one of which is J M W Turner.


The National Gallery currently has an exhibition called Turner Inspired open until summer 2012. The exhibition looks at how the artist Claude was a major influence in the work of Turner. Joseph Mallard William Turner came from a modest background, he grew up and lived in Covent Garden, London and attended the Royal Academy school of art from the age of 14. It was here that Turner had his first access of Claude’s work through his studies.


Both artist helped define the perfect landscape picture, both men sometimes played artistic licence with land marks in the landscapes to get the image that they wanted, both men had a love of Europe especial France and Italy and both men used mythology and biblical scenes in their works. Although their works are a century apart it is clear to see how important Claude was to Turner.


I fell in love with Turner in the medium of water colour and his haunting moving and romantic images of Venice. I was unfamiliar with his oil painting work but have found that his work in oil still captures that dream like magical stance that his water colours evoke for me. (I apologise as the words haze, magical and dream may appear frequently)


For me Turner creates the entrance to a mystical place the entrance to a fairy tale land that you become a voyeur of a place or scene. His use of light and colour as well as small detail creates a place your mind can let your imagination wonder. A good painting can do that just like a good book. 



JMW Turner's Didos Building of Carthage Inspired by woks by Claude

Turner himself acknowledges and venerates Claude in a Bequest he made in his will. Most of the collection of his work, that he gave to the nation including; 300 oils paintings, 30,000 sketches (including some 300 note pads) are housed at Tate Britain. But Turner specified that he wanted his ‘Dido building Carthage’ to be hung between Claude’s ‘Embarkation of the Queen of Sheba’ and the ‘Marriage of Isaac and Rebekah’ – works which formed the prime inspiration for his painting. The pictures are now together in Room 15 when not exhibited in this exhibition.



This image does not do the painting Justice a copy of Decline in the Carthanian Empire by JMW Turner

There is a sister painting to Turner’s ‘Dido Building Carthage’ also by Turner called ‘The Decline Of The Cartanian Empire” and its this picture that I find so moving and beautiful. The image is a very similar to the view depicted in ‘Dido Building Carthage’ but the sun is setting apposed to it rising in the earlier picture. The golden rose tinted hue shows the rose tinted view is dying just like the Cathanian Empire. The dockside is in disarray and the women have a sad woeful expression on their faces. For me this is the better of the two pictures by Turner.


Turner was unable to travel to Italy until 1819 due to the Napoleonic wars. He explored and fell in love with Italy through the images painted by Claude. Like me Italy got under Turners skin and he has an affinity with the landscapes that a fellow Italianphile can recognize.


What amazed me was that Turner very rarely painted on site he made series of sketches on site claiming that he could make several sketches in the time it would take to produce one watercolour. His sketch pads had both rough and detailed sketches with detailed notes enabling him to recreate the image later on.  


In room 3 Tivoli: Tobas & Angelwas the image by Turner that

JMW Turner's Trivoli: Tobias & Angel - took my breath away and held me capitvated

caught my eye. Although created in oil in places it is a delicate as water colour and produces that dreamlike hypnotism that allows me to get lost in the image. As well as its own story the image could let a fertile imagination create a thousand other stories from the one image. That is for me makes a real piece of art.


On the opposite wall in Room 3 were some water colours. Sunrise was as it says on the label; an image of a sunrise simple beautiful and haunting in tones of yellows, rose tones and orange.


Turner is said to have described Italy as a Land of Bliss and he made repeated trips each one almost a pilgrimage into the artists soul. Turner like me, seems to have been captivated by the magic of Venice. Just like his image of the Cathanian Empire in Decline, Venice after the Napoleonic wars was in decline. It neither belonged to the future but was dying in the present. The Republic had been fought over and changed hands and her people and buildings were suffering.


JMW Turner's The Giudecca Canal Venice - This was the image I brought in the gift shop.


Many of our great poets and artists saw the city and over romanized the city at its lowest hour amongst them Dickens and Byron. Just like St Ives, Venice’s light and the magic of the water make it an amazing place for an artist. Turner was said to have returned many times; something I am guilty of as well as Turner. It was here that Turner experimented with the medium of water colour, which until this point was seen as medium to plan big pieces rather than be pieces of art in their own right. But Turner saw potential in the medium and has created some of them most beautiful images of the Serenissima.


The exhibition showcases the best of one of our greatest artists and his muse and inspiration Claude. It showed me another side to Turner and our shared passion for Italy and Venice. If you find yourself in London with an hour to spare do go to the National Gallery and see Turner in all his glory.


Oh and that other artist who gets under my skin, speaks to me and consumes me fully is Titan.

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One Response to My Inspiration Joseph Mallard William Turner

  1. Pingback: Late Turner; Painting Set Free at Tate Britain | Laura Brennan, A Historian

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