Turner and the Masters

On a very cold and very snowy day in London last week I got the chance to go and see the Turner and the Masters exhibition at Tate Britain. In the words of Stephan Deuchar, the director of the Tate, “In exploring how a nineteenth- century painter forged a new and distinctly modern form of landscape painting rooted in an understanding of and critical independence form past art, the exhibition seeks to broaden our understanding of the concept of artistic originality and reveal how a sense of history can shape artistic production.” This large gathering of so many of Turner's works and those of artists that influenced him is extraordinary and has been carefully thought out from beginning to end.
Throughout his career Turner never tired of matching his talents to those forerunners whom he most admired. The great thing about the exhibition is that these are displayed next to Turner's own work and you can see the links that they have with each other. Some of the artists include are Rembrandt, Canaletto, Poussin, Constable, Gainsborough and Ruebens. When Turner was apupil at the Royal Academy, the institutions then president Sir Joshua Reynolds in his Discourses said “Study therefore the works of great masters, for ever. Study as nearly as you can in the manner, and on the principles, in which they studied. Study nature attentively , but always with those masters in your company; consider them as models which you are to imitate, and at the same time as rivals with whom you contend.” I think that this is still relevant today and this is a good approach for myself to use in my own art work.
Poussin's “Winter, or the Deluge” 1662-4 and Turner's “The Deluge” 1805, they are displayed side by side and are a brilliant example of how Turner tried to emulate and challenge the work of old masters. In this example I think that he was particularly successful. Turner's painting portrays a real sense of drama and energy the figures in it appear to be in great agony and peril. Whereas in Poussin's 'Deluge', the emotions of the figures are not portrayed as you would expect in a catastrophe. Turner's version appears a lot more apocalyptic and fits in with the narrative much better.
Rembrandt's “Christ and the woman taken in adultery” 1644 and Turner's “Pilate washing his hands” 1830 were also shown together. However, in this case I do not think Turner has challenged or improved upon the style of a master. In my opinion Rembrandt's painting is better because it has much more defined colours and depth, and more dramatic lighting.
Overall I found the exhibition very interesting and found that being able to compare and contrast so many paintings with one another was a good way to learn more about art.