Exhibition | Turner’s Modern World

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on June 28, 2021

Now on view at Tate Britain (with versions of the exhibition soon coming to Fort Worth and Boston). . .

Turner’s Modern World
Tate Britain, London, 28 October 2020 — 12 September 2021
Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, 17 October 2021 — 6 February 2022
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 2022

One of Britain’s greatest artists, J.M.W. Turner (1775–1851), lived and worked at the peak of the industrial revolution. Steam replaced sail; machine-power replaced manpower; political and social reforms transformed society. Many artists ignored these changes, but Turner faced up to these new challenges. This exhibition will show how he transformed the way he painted to better capture this new world.

Beginning in the 1790s, when Turner first observed the effects of modern life, the exhibition follows his fascination with the impact of industrialisation. It shows how he became involved in the big political questions of the time: campaigning against slavery and making paintings that expressed the horrors of the Napoleonic Wars.

This landmark exhibition will bring together major works by Turner from Tate and other collections, including The Fighting Temeraire (1839) and Rain, Steam and Speed (1844). It will explore what it meant to be a modern artist in his lifetime and present an exciting new perspective on his work and life.

David Blayney Brown, Amy Concannon, and Sam Smiles, eds., Turner’s Modern World (New York: Rizzoli Electa, 2021), 240 pages, 978-1849767132 (hardcover), £40, $55 / ISBN: 978-1849767125 (paperback) £25.

This monograph is tied to the first exhibition to highlight Turner’s contemporary imagery—the most exceptional and distinctive aspect of his work. Rather than making claims for Turner as a proto-modernist, it explores what constituted modernity during his lifetime and what it meant to be a modern artist. Turner’s career spanned the Napoleonic Wars, the rise of the British Empire, the birth of finance capitalism and modern industrialization, as well as political, scientific, and cultural advances that transformed society and shaped the modern world. While historians have long recognized that the industrial and political revolutions of the late eighteenth century inaugurated far-reaching change and modernization, these were often ignored by artists as they did not fit into established categories of pictorial representation. This publication shows Turner updating the language of art and transforming his style and practice to produce revelatory, definitive interpretations of modern subjects.

David Blayney Brown is Senior Curator, Tate Britain. Amy Concannon is Curator, Tate Britain. Sam Smiles is Emeritus Professor of Art History, University of Plymouth, and Programme Director, Art History and Visual Culture, University of Exeter.

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