His style changed so dramatically over his career, however, that many of the later oils, such as The Angel Standing in the Sun, often produced bafflement and hostility. Their chromatic brilliance, unconventional compositions, scant detail and emphasis on the material qualities of the paint itself were unparalleled in contemporary British art. To his detractors these qualities seemed perverse; they variously dubbed him 'the William Blake of landscape painters' (Blake's name was a byword for the irrational and eccentric), castigated him as a bad example for young artists, and memorably likened his pictures to the contents of a hospital spittoon. Time has reversed these judgements, and Turner's later paintings now hold few terrors for a public familiar with the development of Modernist art. Hindsight allows us to compare his output with later artists' work from Monet to Rothko. He has often emerged from these comparisons looking like a prophet -- someone for whom colour and the physical properties of paint became gradually more important than the subject matter... [pp. 6-7]
Turner is often situated within the Romantic movement, along with William Blake (1757-1827), Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840) and Eugene Delacroix (1798-1863), not necessarily because their works look similar but because they shared many attitudes and ideas. The painters and writers who are described as Romantic are usually those who distrusted artistic rules and precepts but exalted imagination, experience, originality and expressive power... [pg. 8]
Turner found support in unlikely quarters for his increasingly elevated view of landscape. As the institution's president, Sir Joshua Reynolds was bound to uphold its belief in the primacy of historical painting, but in his public lectures or Discourses he was realistic enough to acknowledge tacitly that few of the Academy's students would specialize in the genre. If they did, they were unlikely to find many patrons, for, unlike France, where historical painting received support and encouragement from the state, English art was wholly subject to consumer demand, which favoured landscape, portraiture and scenes of ordinary life.
Reynolds's response to this situation was to direct aspiring landscape painters away from the Dutch tradition, which was considered to produce simple transcripts of nature, toward the 'nobler' forms of landscape created by such artists as Claude Lorrain and Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665), whose classical and biblical subjects appealed to the viewer's imagination. Instead of copying the natural world directly, these artists idealized their subjects by selecting the best parts of nature and eliminating what Reynolds described as its 'accidents' or 'deformities'. This process, which was comparable to the way history painters idealized the human body, was thought to place great demands on the painter's taste, intellect and judgement... [pp. 46-47]
In 1798 he visited the London house of the merchant and insurance underwriter John Julius Angerstein, where he studied Claude's Seaport with the Embarkation of the Queen of Sheba. Echoes of the painting occur throughout Turner's work, but he first adapted its pictorial formula in a view of Caernarvon Castle in 1799, where he used it as a framework around which to organize his study of the Welsh landscape... Claude was particularly admired for his handling of light. In Angerstein's painting it has a calm, glowing quality, despite the fact that the viewer looks directly towards the sun and its reflection in the water. So impressed was Angerstein by the way in which Turner achieved a similar though stronger effect in Caernarvon Castle he offered 40 guineas for the picture -- a very high sum for a watercolour... [pp. 47-49]
...as Turner described in his annotations to Opie's Lectures on Painting, the true artist spent a lifetime accumulating a vast experience of the visible world, looking not just at surface appearances, but also at 'the qualities and causes of things'. This habit of close attention allowed the painter to represent both essential beauty and, as Ruskin would later emphasize, the underlying processes of nature... [pg. 135]
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