The most complete exhibition of paintings by J.M.W. Turner is now on permanent display at Tate Britain, joining more than 30,000 of his works that can be seen in cyberspace.
The relaunch of Tate Britain’s J.M.W. Turner collection this autumn marks the completion of the new development of the gallery following its re-opening in October 2001. The new displays focus on a number of Turner masterpieces which have been absent from the walls for a number of years while on loan overseas, including the Self-Portrait of 1799, Decline of the Carthaginian Empire 1817 and Snow Storm: Hannibal and his Army Crossing the Alps 1812.
Born in London in 1775, Turner is widely considered the greatest of British artists, and Tate Britain’s vast hoard of his work forms the cornerstone of its collection of the nation’s art. The bulk of the Turner archive, which comprises several hundred oil paintings and more than 30,000 watercolours and drawings, was left to the National Gallery by the artist on his death in 1851. The Clore Gallery extension to the Tate was built to house this bequest in 1987.
Redevelopment work at Tate Britain, including the creation of a new entrance in Atterbury Street, has allowed the Clore displays to be reconfigured, with the foyer converted into a reading and display area. ‘Turner at Tate Britain’ places the artist’s work in the context of the enormous social and historical changes through his lifetime, including the mass exodus from the countryside and the arrival of the modern industrial world. It also places Turner alongside his contemporaries, with works by other early 19th-century artists hanging in the Clore Gallery, and Turners distributed throughout the permanent collection.
Ten new displays in the Clore Gallery explore the major themes in Turner’s work, covering such subjects as tourism, myth, landscape and the sublime. One room – ‘Exhibiting Turner’ – illustrates the fashion for hanging paintings in Turner’s lifetime, when three rows were crowded on to each wall, the smallest at the bottom. Another highlight is ‘Finished or Unfinished?’, a room of late paintings hung without frames, which emphasises the modernity of Turner’s achievement.
This article was originally published in Tate Magazine issue 2.