Turner in January

Scottish National Gallery: Run Ended

Witnessing the annual showing of thirty-eight Turner watercolours at the National Gallery is the perfect way to start off the New Year, escape Edinburgh’s January Siberian weather and soak up some culture. The breath-taking paintings, only displayed during the month of January by request of the distinguished art collector Henry Vaughan, have been exhibited annually for over one hundred years: a clear way to banish the January blues.

Although tucked away at the back of the ground floor gallery, in a quiet, dimly lit oval room, Turner’s landscape watercolours never fail to disappoint. Small, direct and intimate, his paintings and sketches span the artist’s entire career, from the 1790s to 1840s. They celebrate Turner’s ability to portray the beauty and poetry of European Landscape.

Viewers become witness to Turner’s luminous landscapes executed on his sketching tours. Commencing with young Turner’s early sketches of the mountainous scenery in Wales, Scotland and the Alps, the collection climaxes with the most vibrant artworks in the collection. This includes one of the great high points of his adulthood, his journey to Italy during the later years of his life. The varying works demonstrate Turner’s ability to capture the landscape with both vivid colours and less detail, and in others focus on real scenery. They range from unfinished illustrations of stormy weather in the Alps, to soft and delicate works of Scottish landscapes.

Turner’s Venetian works, which are strongly represented in this exhibition, immediately catches the eye. It has been argued that they were executed on his last tour in 1840, rather than being based on his oil paintings or pencil sketches. This demonstrates Turner’s amazing ability to immediately capture and record the dramatic summer storms with spectacular colour.

Of all the six Venetian landscapes dating from his final visit to Venice in 1840 at the age of sixty-five, the ‘Venice from the Laguna’ watercolour and gouache painting is the most intense. The city of Venice is outlined and encircled by a violent storm, making the buildings almost seem to dissolve. The dark steamboat is reminiscent of the steam train in ‘Rain, Steam and Speed’, which juts out diagonally towards the viewer. It is the only Venetian work in which Turner includes a steamer, symbolic of the modern age, which contrasts with the smaller sailing boats which move violently amongst the waves. Turner belonged to the modern age, not to some imaginary past and here he captures a moment in time and depicts it in its truest form.

This annual exhibition truly provides an overview of many of the important aspects of Turner’s career, as one of the most accessible and admired artists of the Romantic Era. Definitely do not miss out next January.

Image: “The Piazzetta, Venice” by J.M.W. Turner (Scottish National Gallery – Wikipedia)

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