Young Joseph Mallord William Turner’s (1775-1851) travels through Italy provide the objects for The Turner and Italy Exhibition, just finishing at the National Gallery Edinburgh. The exhibition included 100 exhibits: oils, watercolours, prints, books and works by related painters.
Claude, Landscape with Merchants, 1630
The greatest decades of the Grand Tour might have been over, but Turner wanted to familiarise himself with the Renaissance Grand Manner. Once he arrived in Italy in 1802 and fell in love with the country, who became his mentor?
Claude Lorrain had died in Rome in 1682 yet 120 years later, Turner was totally indebted to him and was inspired by his landscapes. Turner, gazing into the polished finishes of serene Claudean images eg Landscape with Merchants 1630, thought he might be able to reach Claude’s skills. Polished, peaceful and limpid, yes. But Olgamay blog in Claude Le Lorrain goes even further and suggests that Turner was striving for expression of spirituality in the world, rather than responding primarily to optical phenomena. KERA Art&Seek Blog » Art review: J. M. W. Turner at the DMA added that Claude was the first European artist to paint the sun directly into one of his landscapes. It was a daring feat to pull off convincingly and one that Turner longed for. Kera Art&Seek blog also borrows the language of spirituality, saying light was the great energy source in Turner’s work eg Decline of the Carthaginian Empire 1817. Turner’s works weren’t just landscapes; they were “visions”.
Turner, Decline of the Carthaginian Empire, c1815
Turner had become an Italiophile, but it was until 1820 that he returned for the many visits that gave such pleasure in the second half of his life. His landscapes and seascapes dissolved into a shimmering atmosphere, full of colour and light eg Approach to Venice 1844. He might have created his shimmering atmosphere anywhere (even Scotland) but it was more sensible in the Mediterranean climate.
Rachel Campbell Johnston said in Turner and Italy at the National Gallery Complex, Edinburgh ... that Turner slowly turned up the heat on Claude's serene pastorals, breathing warm colour into his cool rural scenes. Dazzling suns descended towards distant horizons, filling the atmosphere with glittering light. Forms deliquesced into a glorious shimmer. Turner's vision no longer remembered its sources in Claude. This suited Johnston well since she thought Italian landscapes were the settings for some of Turner's most powerful dramas. Topography vanished, she noted, and with it the figures at which Turner was dreadful. He had arrived at luminous abstraction.
*Turner, Approach to Venice, 1844
Call me old fashioned, but I am still passionate about Claude Lorrain.