This autumn Tate Britain will present a landmark exhibition dedicated to JMW Turner (1775-1851), exploring what it meant to be a modern artist during his lifetime.
Turner’s Modern World will reveal how Britain’s greatest landscape painter found new ways to capture the momentous events of his day, from technology’s impact on the natural world to Napoleonic Wars. The exhibition will bring together 160 key works, including major loans as well as paintings and rarely seen drawings from the rich holdings of Tate’s Turner Bequest.
Turner lived through turbulent times. Britain was at war for much of his life, while revolutions and independence struggles took place around the world. He witnessed the transition from sail to steam and from manpower to mechanisation. Political reform as well as scientific and cultural advances transformed society and shaped the modern world. Living and working at the peak of the industrial revolution, Turner faced up to these new challenges when many other artists did not.
Two decades of conflict with France through the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars introduced another key dynamic to Turner’s work. He directly engaged with war in paintings such as The Battle of Trafalgar 1806-8 and Field of Waterloo 1818, but also depicted aspects of life and work in Britain before, during and after conflict. The exhibition will present his recollections of wartime at home and his reflections on the reputations of Nelson, Napoleon and Wellington as well as on ordinary soldiers and civilians.
The final section of the exhibition will focus on Turner’s pioneering treatment of steam technology. Though alarming to his contemporaries, Turner’s late work is now appreciated as an eloquent response to the dizzying pace of change witnessed during his lifetime.
Turner’s Modern World is organised by Tate Britain in collaboration with Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. It will be accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue from Tate Publishing. The exhibition runs from 28 October 2020 to 7 March 2021. For more information visit tate.org.uk.
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