The Light Fantastic: Turner Inspired opens at the National Gallery, London

Keelmen Heaving in Coals by Moonlight, 1835

Keelmen Heaving in Coals by Moonlight, Turner, 1835

Turner Inspired: In the Light of Claude opens today at the National Gallery London, and explores the profound influence that 17th-century French landscapist Claude Lorrain had on Turner’s work, and their shared use of light. Here we take a look at this exciting new exhibition, and the beautiful accompanying catalogue.

When we think of Turner, we think of those evocative, ghostly landscapes, where ships, cliffs and trains emerge out of nowhere, half-hidden by mist and rain. We also think of quintessentially British scenes, replete with industry, romanticism and intemperate weather. We also think of light. Turner, known as ‘the painter of light’ is famous for his suggestive depiction of light, specifically moon-light, firelight, and the play of light on water. His painting Keelmen Heaving in Coals by Moonlight (above) is a fantastic example of this, depicting a palpable flood of moonlight breaking through the clouds, revealing the banks of the channel and illuminating the sky and the water.

Turner created a revolution in painting at the beginning of the 19th century, responding to a modern industrial landscape with a freer style and new approaches to composition. His increasingly evocative and experimental use of light was central to this, and his work was influential in the develpoment of the Impressionist movement.

A view of the Roman Campagna from Tivoli, Claude Lorrain, 1644-5

A view of the Roman Campagna from Tivoli, Claude Lorrain, 1644-5

The quintessentially British ‘painter of light’ also drew much influence from the French painter Claude Lorrain (c.1604-1682), who was a vital force in Turner’s artistic practice from his formative years until the end of his working life. So great was Claude’s influence that Turner stipulated in his will that his works hang alongside Claude’s in the National Gallery.

The relationship between Turner and Claude, and their shared use of light, is central to a new exhibition at the National Gallery London, opening today. Turner Inspired: In the Light of Claude is the most in-depth examination of Turner’s experience of Claude’s art to date, and offers the chance to compare closely related works by both artists and discover the extent to which Turner was inspired by Claude’s mastery of light and landscape.

The exhibition, accompanied by the beautiful catalogue Turner Inspired: In the Light of Claude, examines the ways in which Turner consistently strove to confront Claude’s achievement and legacy. He had encountered Claude’s works in salerooms and in the collections of his aristocratic patrons, and applied what he had learned to the British countryside, producing views of the Thames valley that transform it into an idyllic pastoral scene reminiscent of the Roman Campagna.

Modern Italy, the Pifferari, Turner

'Modern Italy, the Pifferari' by Turner. Compare this with Claude's 'A view of the Roman Campagna' (above)

The exhibition includes oils, watercolours and sketchbooks and introduces visitors to the story of the ‘Turner Bequest’ and its importance in the history of the National Gallery. The final room of the show exhibits archive material dedicated to this relationship.

Turner Inspired: In the Light of Claude

Turner Inspired: In the Light of Claude

For the balance of his career, Turner continued to pit himself against Claude, paying homage even as he continually sought to go beyond the accomplishments of his master. This exhibition is a fantastic opportunity to see the works of both of these great artists side by side, just as Turner would have wished.

Turner Inspired: In the Light of Claude opens today at the National Gallery (finished 5 June 2012)

The exhibition catalogue Turner Inspired: In the Light of Claude is available now from Yale University Press.

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