Turner, as contemporary as ever
Turner, as contemporary as ever
Joseph Mallord William Turner — The Slave Ship — 1840Joseph Mallord William Turner — Peace buria at sea — 1842
From 27 March to 10 July 2022, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston presents “Turner’s Modern World”, an exhibition of some 100 works by J.M.W. Turner (1775–1851). Turner (1775–1851) that show how the artist’s concerns and interests are still relevant two centuries later.
Images: J.M.W. Turner, “The Slave Ship”, 1840. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston ·· J.M.W. Turner, “Peace. Burial at Sea”, 1842. Tate Britain.
Indisputably regarded as one of the key figures of Romantic painting, the artistic career of Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851) has been widely studied, his works featured in numerous exhibitions, and anecdotes about his life (including many apocryphal ones) included in countless books and publications. With all this, how to achieve an exhibition that, in the words of the MFA’s director Matthew Teitelbaum, “presents J.M.W. Turner as never before”?
“Turner’s Modern World” presents the idea that the themes that were current in J.M.W. Turner’s time are still present -to a greater or lesser extent- today, including the horror of war (sadly very topical in recent weeks, although it has never really ceased to be so) or the environmental cost of industrial progress. Turner, an ambitious and well-travelled painter, “responded to the moment with urgency, using his art to advance justice during one of society’s most tumultuous periods”, in Teitelbaum’s words. The excellent “The Slave Ship” (sometimes known by the more descriptive title of “Slave Ship: Slavers Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying — a Typhoon Coming On”), one of the artist’s masterpieces and one of the great treasures of the MFA, is a clear example of Turner’s engagement with the society of his time.
Another recurring theme in Turner’s work was that of industrial progress. Turner, whose life coincided with what is traditionally considered the height of the Industrial Revolution, was fascinated by these advances, which gave rise to his great masterpiece “Rain, Steam and Speed” or to “Staffa, Fingal’s Cave”, a work included in the exhibition, which, according to the museum, “also hints at a nostalgia for untouched nature”. The exhibition, unsurprisingly, also devotes a section to Turner’s views of Venice, which present the city of canals “a city dissolved in light (…) This mirage-like quality reinforces the reality that Venice, once the dominant power in the eastern Mediterranean, had lost its independence and now lay under Austrian control. These Venice views stand in contrast with Turner’s depictions of Britain’s flourishing industrial economy and function as a sobering admonition to viewers.”
The final section of the exhibition focuses on Turner’s last decade of artistic production, in which he achieved an innovative pictorial language in which several critics have seen a clear forerunner of abstract painting. Turner was obliged, on occasions, to place marks on the frames of the paintings to indicate which was the top and which the bottom. Works such as “Snow storm — Steam boat off a harbor’s mouth” (1842) are a clear example of this revolutionary late style. #2022 #MFAMuseumofFineArtsBoston #theartwolf #WilliamTurner