I visited this Exhibition at the National Gallery this week and was so impressed by the experience that I picked up a copy of this book from the shop there.
The main reason for both the exhibition and this book, is to show how Turner was influenced by the 17th Century French Painter, Claude Lorrain. Claude was very popular in England at the time of Turner's formative years as an artist and Turner became known as the "English Claude".
The exhibition allows you to see the actual paintings side by side and make this comparison for yourself; while the text in this book details all the actual, historical links between the two and how Turner was influenced by Claude. In the book, details of certain paintings are isolated to show how Turner made very accurate copies from memory, of works by Claude; such as "Landscape with Jacob, Laban and his daughters.
The book then goes on to show how Turner followed Claude and travelled to Italy, to see for himself the classical landscapes that inspired the earlier artist, in Rome and Tivoli. The exhibition concentrates on the large landscapes that are available, by both artists and these are incredibly impressive works of Art, to see collected together. Paintings like Turner's "Keelmen heaving in Coals by Night" are already regarded as masterpieces and make a huge impression.
But the exhibition goes beyond this and explores both the similarites and differences between the two painters. So it is fascinating to see how similar some of the classical subjects are and it is clear how both were mainly interested in light; which dominates virtually all of the painitings in the exhibition.
You can also though, see how different the painters are. Claude's landscapes are incredibly detailed and each tree has every leaf in pin-sharp clarity. Look at a similar subject by Turner however and detail is washed away, for an impression which looks similar from a distance. As Turner's painting style develops, we see less and less of the detail evident in Claude and more emphasis on the nature of light in landscapes. Also in Claude, there is a consistency to the painted image that make the surface flat and even, whereas in Turner's later works we see thick brushstrokes and textures standing out on the surface of the canvas. We see dark shapes standing proud and scratches in the surface.
These differences are really only evident from a visit to the gallery, but this book fills out the story of both painters and provides a huge amount of information that is not necessarily evident in the exhibition. So this is the ideal companion to browse at your leisure after having seen the paintings themselves. The book has many large colour plates, which cover all the paintings seen in the exhibition and they are excellent reproductions, with details drawn out in relevant examples.
This book is no substitute for seeing the paintings (no book could ever be) but it is is a wonderful souvenir and an interesting study of how landscape painting developed from the 17th to the 19th Centuries. If you are interested in Turner's work, this is highly recommended and if you see the exhibition, it's difficult to come away without this.