Tate Britain  Room 15
22 January – 25 March 2007

Turner had never made any drawings like these before, and never made any like them again … He is not showing his hand, in these; but his heart’ (John Ruskin, 1878).

The exhibition of Turner’s very greatest watercolour paintings, J.M.W. Turner: Three Rigis, opened at Tate Britain today. The three exceptional works, The Blue Rigi, The Dark Rigi and The Red Rigi, are united for the first time ever. The paintings have been brought together by Tate as part of a campaign to raise £4.95 million to save The Blue Rigi from going abroad. The free exhibition is open until 20 March 2007.

Turner’s ground-breaking use of watercolour, which spanned his career, culminated in the early 1840s with a series of transcendent views of Swiss lakes and mountains. Chief among these are the three views of Mount Rigi as seen from Lake Lucerne. Each shows the mountain at a different time of day and is characterised by a defining colour or tone (Dark, Blue or Red).

These highly-prized finished watercolours are widely regarded as Turner’s finest works, as well as being arguably among the very finest watercolours ever painted. The exhibition brings together The Red Rigi (National Gallery of Melbourne, Australia) and The Blue Rigi (Private Collection) and The Dark Rigi (Private Collection) with Turner’s supporting studies for the Rigi series in the Tate Collection. Over twenty illuminating watercolour studies and sketchbooks are displayed alongside the finished full-scale paintings. The preparatory material in J.M.W. Turner: Three Rigis highlights the many hours of observation and contemplation that lie behind the finished works, and reveal the artist’s complete creative process.

The Blue Rigi was Turner’s first attempt at recording the moment before dawn when the sun just perceptibly begins to chase away the cool darkness of night. Using subtly modulated washes of blue, Turner recreates the stillness and wonder of this instant, anticipating by many years the unified tonal approach to image-making of the Aesthetic Movement. Turner’s interest in the ways in which different lighting and atmospheric effects transformed the same motif, studied from the same viewpoint, clearly foreshadows the serial approaches of several later artists, including Claude Monet and Paul Cezanne.

Tate holds the largest collection of Turner’s works but has no examples of the finished Swiss watercolours that are of such significance for a proper understanding of his final years. The Blue Rigi is in exceptional condition and would be one of the only finished, full-scale late watercolours to enter the Tate Collection. A temporary export bar has been placed on The Blue Rigi until 20 March 2007 by the Culture Minister, David Lammy.

Tate is now in a race against time to save The Blue Rigi for the nation and has pledged £2 million of its own funds towards the fundraising campaign. The Art Fund has awarded £500,000, one of the largest grants in its history, to help save the work from going abroad. The Art Fund and Tate have also launched an online appeal inviting members of the public to pledge their support online by ‘buying a brushstroke’ from The Blue Rigi, via a special website created for donations at www.artfund.org/savebluerigi. Several leading artists have already bought brushstrokes to support the appeal including David Hockney, Peter Blake, Antony Gormley, Howard Hodgkin, Anish Kapoor, Fiona Rae, Bridget Riley, Mark Wallinger and Rachel Whiteread. An application for funding has also been submitted to the National Heritage Memorial Fund.

J.M.W. Turner (1775 – 1851) is considered to be one of the greatest painters Britain has ever produced. The Turner Bequest, left to the nation by the artist following his death in 1851, is the largest and finest collection of his work and comprises hundreds of oils and thousands of watercolours and other works on paper. The wide range of material in the Collection includes the artist’s breathtaking experimental watercolour designs, and documents his travels around Britain and much of Europe. It can be viewed on www.tate.org.uk, and can also be accessed by visitors in the Prints and Drawings Room at Tate Britain (call 020 7887 8042 to make an appointment).

The exhibition is curated by Ian Warrell, Curator at Tate Britain.

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