Joseph William Mallord Turner was born in London in 1775 and was admitted to the Royal Academy Schools in 1789. Turner is famed for his romantic landscape paintings and there is even a permanent collection of his works in the Tate after he left many of his works to the nation after his death.
Romantic landscape painting developed in Britain during the first half of the nineteenth century for a number of possible reasons. An increase in industrialisation meant that artists wanted to portray an idealised version of the countryside landscape, rather than show the effect that the ‘age of steam’ was having on rural Britain. Even politically Chartists and Radicals advocated “a return to the land” as it was mans natural workplace. Another trivial reason being that the new middle class, a creation of the rapid growth in urban areas, just wanted something pretty to hang on the walls of their London homes.
Turner was deeply influenced by another landscape artist, Claude Lorrain, who painted more than a century before him. Turner admired Lorrain so much so that he even requested in his will that Lorrain’s Seaport with Embarkation of the Queen of Sheba (1648) be displayed in the National Gallery next to Turner’s own Dido Building Carthage (1815).
The two landscapes are similar in their compositions using classical architecture to frame the space and you can easily see the influence that Lorrain has had on Turner. Especially in relation to the way the sunlight affects the atmosphere of the painting overall, and both deeply romanticise the landscape.
The romantic landscape of Turner, I believe, evolved much further than for example his contemporary John Constable. Constable remains true to the ideals of romanticism and almost always depicts his ‘true to nature’ scenes of Constable Country. In my opinion Turner began to reject romantic ideals in favour of portraying a much more factual depiction of nature in Britain. Turners works were admired by many and had a particular influence in France, and I think that these later works such as and Rain Steam and Speed (1844) had a direct influence on Impressionism that emerged out of France during the 1870’s and 1880’s
Turner’s Snowstorm: Hannibal and his Army Crossing the Alps (1812) is a particular favourite landscape painting of mine. The figures depicted are very small, as in many of Turner’s landscapes, and almost do not need to be included in the painting as our attention is never actually centred on them and their story. When I look at this painting all I see is the epic landscape and the impressionistic treatment of the snowstorm.
Turner’s ‘The Fighting Temeraire’ (1839) is another favourite and was even recently voted by the nation as its favourite painting. It shows the Temeraire being tugged to its last berth before being dismantled. Apart from being quite a beautiful painting there may have been underlying connotations that Turner was trying to portray. The small ugly tug boat is representative of the new industrial era of the Victorian age and the large majestic ship is representative of the old Georgian era. The sun is setting on this era but even the smoke from the small tug boat blackens the sunset and is almost like the victory of industrialisation over everything that once was. The use of light to create atmosphere and his style influence me in my work.