J. M. W. Turner: Painting Set Free
June 20‒September 20, 2015 de Young
SAN FRANCISCO—The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco are pleased to announce J. M. W. Turner: Painting Set Free, opening at the de Young on June 20, 2015. This will be the first major exhibition to survey the achievements of Joseph Mallord William Turner (English, 1775–1851) during his final period of productivity, when many of his most celebrated works were created. Included are paintings from 1835, when the artist turned 60, through 1850, the year he was last exhibited at the Royal Academy in London.
Painting Set Free brings together 65 key oil paintings and watercolors, shedding fresh light on the artist’s life and art by challenging myths, assumptions and interpretations that have grown around his later work. It reveals a painter distinguished by the broad scope of his knowledge and imagination, as well as by his radical and exploratory techniques and uses of materials. The exhibition also will provide the rare opportunity to see firsthand some of the masterpieces featured in Mike Leigh’s critically acclaimed film Mr. Turner (Sony Pictures Classics, 2014).
“Turner was arguably the greatest English artist of the 19th century,” said Colin B. Bailey, director of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. “It is an exceptional privilege to share such a significant group of the artist’s paintings and watercolors, important works that come to us from a host of international lenders.”
Born in London, Turner entered the Royal Academy Schools in 1789, at the age of 14. He became a member of the Royal Academy in 1802 and was elected professor of perspective there in 1807. The prolific artist produced drawings, prints, watercolors and oils. Frequently depicting landscapes infused with themes drawn from mythology, history and literature, Turner sought inspiration for his natural settings throughout Britain and Europe.
In the work produced during the last 15 years of his life, Turner demonstrated an ongoing commitment to the observation of nature. He also continued to engage with the grand religious and historical themes that rooted him in the cultural traditions of his era. His interest in the rise and fall of civilizations is exemplified by Ancient Rome; Agrippina Landing with the Ashes of Germanicus and Modern Rome—Campo Vaccino (both 1839), a pair of monumental canvases rarely shown together since their first exhibition in 1839. The exhibition at the de Young also will include such iconic works as The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons, October 16, 1834 (1834–1835); a number of the artist’s well-known images of Italy, culminating in his Approach to Venice (1844); and additional pairs of companion paintings, including War. The Exile and the Rock Limpet and Peace—Burial at Sea (both 1842).
Turner’s late works often were poised equivocally between the finished and unfinished. This tension is seen in a series of reworkings in oil of subjects and compositions he first had treated decades earlier. Painting Set Free will present the most famous of these: Europa and the Bull (ca. 1845) and Norham Castle, Sunrise (ca. 1845). It also will display a group of “sample studies,” watercolors that Turner presented to potential clients as templates for finished landscapes. The exhibition concludes with Turner’s final pictures exhibited during his lifetime, a suite of paintings depicting the classical lovers Dido and Aeneas (1850).
“Turner’s late paintings, which include many of his best-known images, are both engaging and enigmatic,” said Esther Bell, curator in charge of European paintings at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. “These astonishing works influenced generations of artists, from Claude Monet to Cy Twombly.”
About the Artist
Born in London, Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851) entered the Royal Academy Schools in 1789, at the age of fourteen. He became a member of the Royal Academy in 1802, and was elected Professor of Perspective in 1807. A prolific artist, he worked most frequently in watercolor and oil. He represented landscapes, often infused with themes drawn from mythology, history, and literature. Turner sought inspiration throughout Britain and the continent, studying the natural world, as well as works by the Renaissance and Baroque masters. Throughout his later years he continued to tour Europe, with his final trip there in 1845. He exhibited his last four paintings at the Royal Academy in 1850 and died in 1851