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Turner Landscapes

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Another artist that Turner emulates to the point of worship was Claude Lorrain. “The fundamental and enduring appeal of Claude’s landscapes lay in his idealizing approach to the representation of nature”[9]. It was not enough for Turner to emulate Claude, he really wanted to know the “mental and artistic procedures” that Claude went through so that he could implement the style and make it his own while giving it a modern twist. Claude had a formula for ideal landscapes that Turner assimilated into his own work. This formula can be seen in practice in Claude’s Landscape with Jacob, Laban, and his Daughters. The trees frame the canvas on one side while separating the canvas to 5/8 and 3/8 on the other. The people frolicking the foreground, the water moving through the middle ground and under the bridge, which the mountains in the background embody Claude's formula for landscapes. Turner emulates this painting to the point of plagiarizing in his work [n][o][p]The Festival upon the Opening of the Vintage of Macon. What saves the painting from being a copy of an Old Master, is Turner’s use of light and dimension to give the experience of viewing nature rather than just looking at it. Turner achieves this effect by minimizing the bridge and placing it further up the stream, allowing the water to hold the viewer’s eye as it travels through the canvas.

The same can be stated about the similarities between Claude’s Dido Building Carthage and Turner’s Embarkation of the Queen of Sheba. The images are similar in the fact that both are framed by the columns and buildings and show a strong golden light. However, Turner's work manages to give the scene an almost nostalgic air of departure. The use of sunset rather than Claude's sunrise gave Turner's work a softer glow capturing the atmosphere of a day drawing to a close[q] in an ideal setting. "Because the Queen of Sheba has been relegated to the group of small figures descending the staircase to the right, the viewer's ‘stands' in her place, free to anticipate departure – or to indulge in a longing for one's own passage away from every day"[10]. In contrast, Claude’s Dido shows a stronger central light that drags the viewer’s eye directly from the light on the water to the sun and then to the sides. Claude’s use of the small boat sailing away to new beginning foreshadowed by the creation of something new and the sunrise must have given Turner the idea for his own work.

Interestingly enough, Turner’s competitive streak was not delegated only to Old Masters but to his contemporaries as well. As a contemporary and a fellow landscape painter, John Constable served as a source of rivalry for Turner. In one instance it was said that upon the acceptance of both of their paintings, Constable’s Opening of Waterloo Bridge and Turner’s own Helveotsluys Turner came to the varnishing day before the Exhibition opened. Due to the fact that their paintings were right next to each other, Turner added a small red dot onto his canvas which completed and united his whole composition. In contrast, Constable’s painting seemed to be teeming with action and crammed with subjects, which only underscored Turner’s work’s marine simplicity.

By the late 1820s, Turner’s emulation has developed and devolved into his own signature style. His precocious style as a young man painting Gothic architecture in watercolors and later emulations of the Old Masters allowed him to gain enough independence and stability to explore a new radical style. During the later part of his life and career, Turner's primary focus was on the way light, color, and atmosphere combined together to invoke emotion in the viewer. "In his earlier work Turner defined form by following the classical precedents, and his range of color was reduced accordingly"[r][11]. His journey to Italy and his time there has swayed him to a new direction. His preoccupation with mist, steam, and smoke which originated during his childhood in London remain[s]ed the focus of his later works. Agrippina Landing with the Ashes of Germanicus exhibited in 1839 and The Departure of the Fleet exhibited in 1850 showcase Turner’s desire to create art that conveyed feeling and atmosphere through smudged, soft images and lines. His later art “virtually excluded any reference to the form of nature, unless we regard them as veiled areas of sky, earth, and sea”[12]. Yet despite looking like a blend of colors, Turner’s paintings manage to convey the powerful emotions such as the pain and horror of the dying slaves in the Slave Ship or the peaceful and sleepy atmosphere of Venice in Moonrise.

Overall, Joseph Mallord Wiliam Turner was one of the most prolific and influential artists of the 19th century. Turner was very aware that he was coming into a field that others have succeeded and dominated in, leaving their own mark. While studying at the Royal Academy and later the Old Masters in Paris, Turner combined and improved already established traditions of Claude and Van de Velde. However, it is his improvements and later experiments with color, light, and atmosphere that cemented his impact upon British art. His influence is felt largely upon the Impressionist movement and artists such as Eduard Monet as well as Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso. “It would be entirely in keeping with the contradictory nature of Turner’s hugely ambitious enterprise if, in the end, we were to reach the paradoxical conclusion that it is precisely the most ‘old fashioned’ dimension of his artistic project that ultimately confirms its indisputable modernity”[13].

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Works Cited

Brown, David. "Joseph Mallord William Turner". Tate (2012): n. pag. Web. 28 Apr. 2016.

"'Display caption of the White House of Chelsea'". Tate. N.p., 2004. Web. 28 Apr. 2016.

Greggs, Jeffrey. "Exhibition Note". The New Criterion. N.p., 2016. Web. 28 Apr. 2016.

Reynolds, Graham. Turner. New York: H.N. Abrams, 1969. Print.

Solkin, David H and Guillaume Faroult. Turner And The Masters. London: Tate, 2009. Print.

Warrell, Ian, J. M. W. Turner, Claude Lorrain, Philippa Simpson, Alan Crookham, and Nicola Moorby. Turner Inspired: In the Light of Claude. London: National Gallery, 2012. Print.

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