Major exhibition of Turner works comes to Rome from Tate Britain.
22 March-26 Aug. Chiostro del Bramante hosts Turner. Opere della Tate, the first Rome exhibition dedicated exclusively to the work of J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851), the English Romantic painter, printmaker and watercolourist.
The exhibition comprises 92 Turner works, including sketches, studies, watercolours and drawings, along with a selection of oils never shown before in Italy. The works on display belong to the Turner Bequest, housed at London's Tate Britain, and the exhibition marks an important new collaboration between Chiostro del Bramante and the Tate.
After Turner's death in 1851, the contents of his studio became the property of Britain. Known as the Turner Bequest, the collection comprises more than 300 oil paintings and around 30,000 sketches and watercolours, including 282 bound sketchbooks, some of which contain up to 250 pages. Among the most influential exponents of Romanticism, Turner is best known for his expressive landscapes and turbulent seascapes, many of which are infused with literary or historical allusions.
The exhibition in Rome is curated by leading Turner expert, David Blayney Brown, who describes it as an “insight into the artist's working process.” Blayney Brown says the softly-lit show gives the viewer a “sense of looking over Turner's shoulder, joining him at work, whether out in the field open-air sketching or working in his studio.” The curator also underlines the fact that the exhibited works reflect the “private Turner” whose personal paintings were not constrained by the commercial or aesthetic expectations of the era. The works on display document Turner's stylistic and technical development over his long career, and the show is divided into six sections running in chronological order.
The exhibition begins with the show's main publicity image, the glorious Venice looking across the lagoon at sunset, the first of many Turner works painted during his travels in Italy. In 1819-20 the artist undertook a 'belated Grand Tour', spending six months in Italy, mainly in Rome but also in Naples and Venice. Rome residents will be quick to spot images of the Eternal City in the exhibition, including the Forum, the Arch of Constantine and Castel S. Angelo. Turner's Italian visit is regarded as a key moment in the artist's career, making a lasting impact on his already increasingly strong treatment of light and colour.
In 1828 Turner returned to Rome where he soon became an “object of great curiosity” among his peers, according to Blayney Brown, who told the story during a packed press conference at the Chiostro. To satisfy the curiosity surrounding his works, Turner decided to hold an exhibition at his studio, number 12 Piazza Mignanelli, near the Spanish Steps. Blayney Brown said the event was “very badly received” however, with most of the 1,000 visitors “horrified” at what they saw. Such was the distaste for his paintings that the Austrian artist Joseph Anton Koch circulated a caricature of the figure of Fame flying over Turner's exhibition, blowing a trumpet out of its rear end with a less than polite message. While sparing journalists the details of the offending epithet, Blayney Brown said he “hoped reactions to Turner's current Rome exhibition will be a little more appreciative.”
Although Turner travelled extensively on the continent, the exhibition is not short on works – both large and small – featuring more recognisable placenames in England, Scotland and Wales. In addition to showcasing Turner's works, the show examines his impact on subsequent artists including Monet, Rothko and Cy Twombly. As Blayney Brown put it: “Turner was an artist out of time” whose timeless works “could have been made yesterday, or indeed tomorrow.”
Walking through the exhibition, visitors may find themselves mulling through a multitude of terms to describe Turner's work. However no sooner is a word seized upon than it is likely swept away, as if in an inspired brushstroke by the master's own hand. Delicate crashes into dramatic; exquisite and traditional collide with innovative, bold and modern. Perhaps a critic in 1842 got close when he called Turner a “magician”, with “command over the spirits of Earth, Air, Fire and Water.”
From sunsets and storms to moonlit seas, Turner's magic can be enjoyed in this enchanting exhibition at Rome's Chiostro del Bramante until 26 August.