Drawing inspiration from others and changing it to suit your own method is an artistic tradition that has been going on for many years. Just as writers shape their style by reading classics and surrounding themselves with prose, painters imitate and recreate works from masterpieces too.
This idea of looking up to previous masters is a key message of the new National Gallery exhibition, Turner Inspired: In the light of Claude.
JMW Turner was a British artist who, with his freer style and new approach to composition, caused a sensation at the beginning of the 19th century. Yet his romantic landscape painting and watercolours were very much inspired by that of 17th century painter Claude Lorrain. Claude was revolutionary – in his repositioning of the sun in the middle of a composition, and his use of light and shadow to delicately replicate real life. We can see the similarities between the two in the architecture and the placement of the sun.
…so textured so delicate, it’s a joy to appreciate his work.
Walking around this exhibition, it is clear that both artists’ works are breathtaking. Claude instils a distinct style and element into each painting he created, while Turner’s instead seem to vary in technique as his career progressed. But his paintings are consistent in their sense of beauty. The paintings and watercolours are each incredibly detailed, and he uses light and shadow to gauge a sense of reality. He also incorporates the idea of majesty, portraying grand landscapes on a scale that is beyond the imagination, replicating vantage points to the scenery that would have been awesome to see in real life. His application of paint is so textured and his subjects so delicately juxtaposed, it’s a joy to appreciate his work.
At the request of Turner’s last will and testament, his death in 1851 saw the bequest of all his paintings to The National Gallery. Over the years, consequent dealings have taken place and now the Tate owns the bulk of his paintings, but The National Gallery still keeps Room 34 and Room 15 as tribute to his wishes; particularly Room 15 which sees his paintings next to Claude’s.
It is perhaps with this link of history and patronage in mind that The National Gallery has organised and curated this exhibition.
…I got a little lost trying to recall those high school art lessons…
Although it is common knowledge that Turner was well influenced by Claude’s earlier works, and they are often hung together and compared in reproduction, actually taking the time to walk around and consider the original pieces is a moving experience.
For those that are not too familiar with the affiliation between the two, when it comes to analysing Turner’s work and comparing key paintings with Claude’s, you will realise that he uses the central idea of Claude’s quite freely, but has rehashed them in such a way it may take a moment or two to actually notice the similarities. I stood in front of each painting and found myself falling in to the intricacies of each one, intricacies that no doubt would have plagued the artists as they set about creating their piece; in full knowledge of the scrutiny it would be up against. I’ll admit I did get a little lost at times trying to recall those high school art lessons which discussed the use of gods and illusion in Turner’s pieces, while also absorbing the extra information being thrown at me by the exhibition itself.
The gallery provides an atmosphere to think and consider the art on a close scale. If you have the patience to stroll around this exhibition, and the passion to truly embrace the complexities between the two artists’ work, this is indeed an excellent exhibition. For the avid history chum of all that is art, it may do little more than re-affirm what you already know.
The exhibition runs until 5 June 2012
Image © The National Gallery, London (NG12)