Room 2: The academy and the grand style

Joseph Mallord William Turner, ‘Crossing the Brook’ exhibited 1815
Joseph Mallord William Turner
Crossing the Brook exhibited 1815

From an early age Turner looked to London’s pre-eminent art institution, the Royal Academy, as a means of securing professional recognition and social prestige. This lifelong affiliation brought with it an allegiance to the ‘Grand Style’ promoted by the Academy. The Grand Style was considered the most elevated genre of art, dealing with moral themes in the universalising language of classical idealism. The potential for landscape painting – conventionally considered as a minor genre – to achieve the intellectual clarity of the Grand Style had been asserted influentially by three French painters who worked in seventeenth-century Rome – Claude Lorrain, Nicolas Poussin and Gaspard Dughet.

In the 1800s Turner exhibited a series of pictures at the Academy that openly emulated this trio of masters, provocatively staking his claim to the aesthetic high ground represented by the Grand Style. He also produced works to rival the more unconventionally imaginative painter Salvator Rosa, and the sensuality of Venetian masters like Titian and Veronese.