May 6, 2009 / 2:15 PM / 10 years ago

Turner paintings to vie with rivals and masters at Tate

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - The works of English Romantic landscape painter JMW Turner will vie with contemporary rivals and preen next to those of the old masters he hoped to surpass in a new exhibition at London’s Tate Britain gallery.

“Turner and the Masters” will bring together about 100 works of historical significance from around the world, including artists such as Canaletto, Claude, Cuyp, Poussin, Rembrandt, Rubens, Ruisdael, and van de Velde.

The exhibition will be the first to look at the work of Turner (1775-1851) in the company of the greatest painters in the preceding history of western art.

“It will reveal his debts and rivalries in exciting, even unpredictable, ways, and explore his reputation as one of the greatest painters of landscape in the European tradition,” the Tate said in a press statement.

The exhibition will pair Turner’s works with major paintings by his predecessors. There will also be pairings with paintings by Turner’s most important contemporaries such as John Constable and Richard Bonington.

The exhibition aims to show how Turner’s responses to other artists were both acts of homage and a sophisticated form of art criticism, designed to demonstrate his understanding of great art and his ability to equal and even outshine the most celebrated exponents of the landscape tradition.

For the first time since they were shown together at the Royal Academy exhibition in 1832, Turner’s Helvoetsluys will be united with Constable’s Opening of Waterloo Bridge.

When the works were originally shown Turner famously added a red buoy to his seascape during the “varnishing” period before the exhibition opened, apparently in order to compete with the bright reds of Constable’s adjacent work. Constable reportedly told a friend “Turner has been here and fired a gun.”

“It was Turner’s strategy, almost uniquely within the history of European art, to enter into direct competition with artists both past and present, whom he considered as worthy rivals to his own fame,” the Tate said.

Turner built his reputation as an oil painter by challenging the works of old masters, deliberately producing paintings that could hang in their company. Often admired as an independent genius, he was in fact deeply engaged with the works of other artists. He studied the works of old masters, particularly those of the 17th century landscape painter Claude Lorrain.

Born in London, Turner was the son of a barber of humble means. He entered the Royal Academy Schools in 1789 at the age of 14 before becoming a member of the Royal Academy in 1802 and Professor of Perspective in 1807.

Turner and the Masters is on at the Tate Britain from September 23, 2009 to January 31 2010. The exhibition will go on tour to Le Grand Palais in Paris, from February 22 to May 23 2010, and to the Museo del Prado in Madrid from June 22 to September 19 2010.

Reporting by Paul Casciato

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