29 April 2012

Turner and Claude at the National Gallery, London

In a post last year I commented, after a visit to Claude Lorrain: The Enchanted Landscape at the Ashmolean in Oxford, that there were relatively few paintings being shown by comparison with the numerous drawings and etchings (13 vs 125). The National Gallery’s current spring exhibition, Turner Inspired: In the Light of Claude, provides an opportunity to see about 10 oils by Claude and 20 by Turner, and the ratio of paintings to other works is better balanced. The theme of the National Gallery (NG) show is Claude’s influence on Turner so the latter’s paintings being in the majority is as to be expected. Also Turner’s paintings are readily available in London, so many having been held by the NG and Tate Britain since his 1856 Bequest.

Joseph Mallord William  Turner (1775-1851) painted 200 years after Claude (1604-1682). But Claude became a major influence after Turner’s first encounter in 1799 with works in the possession of the dealer Angerstein (a collection which later became the kernel of the NG). Turner was impressed by and sought to emulate Claude’s ability to invest an ethereal quality to the light at the beginning and end of the day. An impressive example of this is A View of the Roman Campagna from Tivoli, Evening (below) on loan from the Royal Collection.

Turner left the NG his paintings Dido building Carthage and Sun rising through Vapour: Fishermen cleaning and selling Fish on the condition that they would be hung between two paintings by Claude: Seaport with the Embarkation of the Queen of Sheba and Landscape with the Marriage of Isaac and Rebecca and the exhibition hangs all these pictures in close proximity. Later works by Turner reveal his move away from Claude’s style (though commonalities remained – neither painter cared much for figures in their landscapes, preferring trees and water as subjects) to his later, more romantic and free-flowing style, much admired by the French impressionists, particularly Monet.

Turner Inspired: In the Light of Claude ends on 5 June and should not be missed by anyone interested in either of these painters or in the evolution of landscape painting.

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