Major Turner exhibition at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwhich opens tomorrow


The National Maritime Museum’s exhibition of JMW Turner’s paintings Turner and the Sea opens tomorrow and I will definitely be looking for an opportunity to see it.

Years ago I had a pal who had worked for the NMM and was full of stories of all the great art she’d seen but which isn’t ever seen by the public, so I’m looking forward to something marvellous. And, of course, there will be all the works on loan from other galleries around the world. It should be quite something.

No doubt we’ll make the trip for a cold and rainy winter day. The show runs at Greenwich from the 22nd November 2013 to the 21st April 2014, so there should be lots of time.

Here’s how the curators describe it:

‘Turner and the Sea… is the first full-scale examination of JMW Turner’s lifelong fascination with the sea. Dramatic, contemplative, violent, beautiful, dangerous and sublime – the sea was the perfect subject to showcase Turner’s singular talents, and the 120 pieces on display include some of the most celebrated paintings of the artist’s long career.

‘The extraordinary quality of the works gathered together for Turner and the Sea confirms his status as the pre-eminent painter of water, and demonstrates his unique ability to represent the elemental power of the sea. The exhibition features items on loan from some of the world’s most prestigious artistic institutions including: The National Gallery, Tate, Yale Center for British Art, British Museum, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Royal Collection Trust, Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon and National Gallery of Art, Washington.

‘From his transformative Royal Academy paintings of the late 1790s and early 1800s to the unfinished, experimental seascapes he produced towards the end of his life, more than half of Turner’s artistic output depicted maritime subjects. It should come as no surprise that a man who spent much of his life along the coastlines of Britain and Europe, who spent days fishing the river Thames, and who reportedly had himself lashed to the mast of a ship to better paint a storm at sea, captured this subject so often and with such evocative mastery. Nonetheless, the sheer volume of material Turner created in his quest to depict the sea is remarkable.

‘The Fighting ‘Temeraire’ (1839), Snow Storm – Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth (1842), Staffa, Fingal’s Cave (1832), ‘Now for the Painter’ (1827), Keelmen Heaving in Coals by Moonlight (1835), Whalers (c.1845) and Calais Pier (1803) will all be shown, alongside works by other major British and European artists, including Willem van de Velde, Claude-Joseph Vernet, Thomas Gainsborough, Nicholas Pocock, John Constable and Richard Parkes Bonington. Turner and the Sea re-evaluates the compelling appeal of the sea for Turner and his contemporaries, and gives visitors the opportunity to see the ways in which he responded to the art of the past, while challenging his audiences with a new and exciting maritime vision.

‘Further highlights include: Turner’s largest painting and only royal commission, The Battle of Trafalgar (1824), one of the jewels in the National Maritime Museum’s fine art collection; Fishermen at Sea, the first oil painting Turner exhibited at the Royal Academy; The Wreck of a Transport Ship (c.1810), not seen in London since 1970s, displayed alongside The Shipwreck (1805) and Calais Pier – the first time these three storm paintings have been shown together; and The Wreck Buoy (1849), Turner’s last exhibited marine painting.

‘Encompassing oils, watercolours, prints and sketches, the exhibition follows Turner’s progression from newly-elected Royal Academician to one of the country’s most celebrated artists. While his style changed considerably, his virtuoso showmanship remained a dazzling constant. Turner and the Sea examines the artist’s new and often unexpected response to the prestigious history of European marine painting, as well as the relish with which he competed with other artists of his generation, ultimately leaving them in his wake as he took his work in a new, uninhibited and innovative direction.

‘Having begun by responding to the artists of the 17th century at the start of his career, the works from the end of Turner’s life seem almost as if they could come from the 20th century. As he left behind the rules and conventions of maritime art, dividing critics and public alike, Turner created a unique vision of the overwhelming power of nature – the final stage in a lifelong engagement with the sea.

‘Dr Kevin Fewster, Director of Royal Museums Greenwich, said “JMW Turner is one of the most influential painters in the history of British art. He was also the 19th century’s greatest and most prolific marine artist, and one for whom naval and maritime Greenwich provided a rich source of inspiration, making the National Maritime Museum an especially appropriate venue for this exhibition. So obvious is Turner’s fascination with the sea, I was surprised to discover that a major exhibition devoted to this theme in his work had not been previously staged. I am glad that this omission has allowed us to put together this wonderful exhibition which I hope will be an inspiration for art lovers and lovers of the sea alike.”‘

For information see the National Maritime Museum’s pages at the Royal Museums Greenwich website.


3 thoughts on “Major Turner exhibition at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwhich opens tomorrow”

  1. Excellent! I just went to see the Turner show at Brighton’s Royal Pavilion, which consists of one painting in a rather dimly-lit hall, with smallish text rather difficult to read. (I was also a bit taken aback having to pay the full Pavilion entry fee when all I wanted to do was see the Turner).
    However, the exhibition has 4 little Turner sketches of fishing boats which are (imo) divine things, and quite a good account of how he kept on not getting any Royal attention.
    And the story of Turner-at-Brighton is also quite interesting. I don’t think he was terribly impressed by it, but courted the man who built the beautiful chain-pier which features in the painting around which the exhibition is built. So, it’s worth going to see.
    It’s also worth going to the Museum and Art Gallery right beside the Pavilion – because it’s free – and has some other wonderful things in it, including a marvellous collection of English ceramics illustrating social history. Upstairs is a show called Subversive Art, which you have to pay to go to, and that’s worth it too.

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