Tate Gallery, London in collaboration with Art Gallery of South Australia and National Gallery of Australia, has produced an important exhibition entitled "Turner From the Tate: The Making of A Master." This highly detailed catalog that accompanied it is intended to glorify and illuminate almost every known biographical fact, artistic agenda, unique experiment, public criticism, lasting friendship, and undoubted success of the greatest landscape painter of 19th century Britain, Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851).
Contributions for this book come from numerous scholars graciously sharing their profound expertise concerning the artist's technical training and prowess, his special attentiveness to pigments and their applications, and his rise to prominent and unrivaled master painter of oils and watercolors.
Critics and the viewing public were not always favorably inclined to his richly textured brushstrokes and color strategies which they labeled as "indistinct", "spinach and egg" and "soapsuds and whitewash." However, Turner moved out of the storm by always asserting and defending his independent approach. For example, his use of yellow pigment to fill compositions with light, red pigment to give emphasis and focus to minute details, and brown and white ground to accentuate his vigorous and precise energetic output, gave him the exclusive identity he desired.
The contributors also chronicle Turner's multiple experiences as an avid traveler and devoted naturalist. He remained on a continuous quest for new and inspirational sources of vision. Every year he took sketching tours throughout England, Wales, and Scotland. France, The Netherlands, Germany, Italy, and Switzerland also fascinated him. He enjoyed recording the significance of the cathedrals, castles, towering ruins, mountain ranges, rocky crags, lakes, and rivers he came into contact with. The luminous beauty of these encounters is preserved in his almost 300 sketchbooks.
The authors of this catalog additionally parallel Turner's life-changing insights and inspirations with his methodical process of observing, incorporating, and transforming on-the-spot sketches into a singularly accurate, dramatic, and powerful manner. Selected examples of these famous depictions include: Ely Cathedral (1797), Durham Cathedral-Interior (c.1798), Norham Castle, Sunrise (c. 1798), St. Gotthard's Pass (1802), Venice-The Bridge of Sighs (1840), Snow Storm-Steam Boat Off a Harbour's Mouth (1842) and others.
Most importantly, this absorbing study equates Turner's popular, heroic status with his prodigious talent, competitive nature, and determined zeal to step out of his humble beginnings. As a result, this catalog reveals a resilient man wisely navigating through the uncertainties of fame. He ultimately benefited from his careful collaborations with the public press, the Royal Academy of Art, and from his lucrative production and distribution of historical prints, engravings of tourist sites, and idealized images of grand estates for demanding patrons.
In its conception, this exceedingly informative catalog accomplishes J.M.W. Turner's goal of placing the spectator and interpreter of his work at the privileged center of his specific thoughts and activities.
The catalog and exhibit are a magnification of Turner's life approached with dedicated and close inspection, interesting sensitivity, and complete involvement. It can serve as a starting point for assimilating immense information about Turner's scrutiny of natural processes, human struggles, and emotional responses.
In this context, the preserved archives of his 300 oil paintings and more than 20,000 finished and unfinished studies, watercolors, and drawings comprising his bequest to the British nation in 1851, take on a new historic and contemporary relevance.
Ivana Mladenovic, Ph.D