Chester Decorative & Fine Arts Society

A Member Society of NADFAS

Turner and Romanticism

Lecturer: James Malpas

JMW Turner (1775-1851) is a protean figure in British art, starting his career as an 18th century topographical landscape artist, rapidly establishing himself as a young Royal Academician and “sublime” History painter (e.g. “Hannibal Crossing the Alps” (1812), “Ulysses Deriding Polyphemus” (1829).  He was an inveterate workaholic traveller, through Britain and in 1802, France and Switzerland, becoming an almost annual Continental visitor from the 1820s through to the mid-1840s, beguiled by Italian light, the tradition of Claude Lorraine’s classical-baroque and the frailty of mankind and his hopes face-to-face with Nature and Fate (a stance he shares with Beethoven and other Romantic figures such as Lord Byron).  His prolific career (over 30,000 watercolours and drawings are recorded!) was immensely successful despite his often truculent character because he shrewdly balanced his radical works (the “Colour Beginnings” for example) with enormous crowd-pleasers for the Royal Academy, so that he stimulated the critics to debate his work, rather than write it off.  Monet and Renoir were astonished by the range of colour they saw in his work while in exile in London (1870-1) and what Constable called his “wonderful range of mind” has led the French, more recently, to subtitle and exhibition of his work in Paris “the Shakespeare of painting”, with good cause. 

This lecture will display the breadth and depth of Turner’s technique and inspiration and relate it to the work of contemporaries like Gericault and Delacroix in France, Goya in Spain and Caspar David Friedrich in Germany.