Joseph Mallord William Turner, Rain, Steam and Speed exhibited 1844. The National Gallery, London. © The National Gallery, London

Joseph Mallord William Turner, Rain, Steam and Speed exhibited 1844. The National Gallery, London. © The National Gallery, London

28 October 2020 – 7 March 2021
Supported by the Manton Foundation. With additional support from the Turner's Modern World Exhibition Supporters Circle, Tate Americas Foundation, Tate Patrons and Tate Members

Open daily 10.00 – 18.00 and until 22.00 on Friday and Saturday
For public information call +44(0)20 7887 8888, visit or follow @Tate #TurnersModernWorld

Tate Britain presents 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 reveals 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 the dizzying effects of modernisation on society. The exhibition brings together 150 key works, including major loans as well as paintings and rarely seen drawings from the rich holdings of Tate’s collection.

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 explosion of finance capitalism as well as 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. Starting in the 1790s when Turner first observed contemporary life as a young painter, the exhibition explores his fascination for industry and infrastructure as new elements of Britain’s landscape.

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 presents 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 exhibition also reflects on Turner’s interest in social reform, especially his changing attitudes towards politics, labour and slavery. These include liberal and humanitarian causes such as Greek independence from Ottoman Turkey, the 1832 Reform Act and the abolition movement. Key works such as The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons 1835 show his engagement with political events of the day, while A Disaster at Sea 1835 is an ambitious depiction of a maritime catastrophe.

The final section of the exhibition focuses on Turner’s pioneering treatment of steam technology, presenting Turner’s late style as a means by which the artist sought to develop a visual language fit for the modern world. 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. The exhibition explores how Turner followed his early interest in industrial advances through to the 1840s when, alone among his fellow artists, he made steam-boats and railways the subjects of major exhibition pictures. Key works include Snow Storm 1842 as well as The Fighting ‘Téméraire’ 1839 and Rain, Steam and Speed 1844 on rare loan from the National Gallery. The Fighting ‘Téméraire’ will be shown alongside its preparatory sketch for the very first time in the exhibition.

Turner’s Modern World is organised by Tate Britain in collaboration with Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The exhibition is co-curated by David Brown, Senior Curator, British Art 1790-1850, Amy Concannon, Curator, British Art 1790-1850, James Finch, Assistant Curator, 19th Century British Art, and Sam Smiles, Emeritus Professor of Art History, University of Exeter, with Hattie Spires, Curator, British Art. It is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue from Tate Publishing.

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Available to view as part of the Rothko and Turner collection route
Hydra Decapita visualises an Afrofuturist sonic fiction on the afterlife of Atlantic slavery in the British Empire. The Otolith Group’s occult symbolism connects the mythical underworld created by the electronic music duo Drexciya with the spectres of race that animate Ruskin’s writings on Turner’s treatment of water in Slavers Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying – Typhon Coming On 1840.

Friday 20 November 2020 at 19:00 on

Late at Tate Britain will invite viewers to delve into subjects tackled by Turner and to respond to works on display at Tate Britain, including Turner and David Tremlett’s colour installation on the Manton staircase. JMW Turner was one of the first to creatively document the industrial revolution and captured the knock on effects of the changing world around him and in this month’s online stream, they will explore the effects of climate change in today’s modern world, taking inspiration from Turner’s Modern World. Late at Tate Associate Creative Researcher, Soofiya will introduce Ravensbourne Fashion student Simone Niles and recently fashion graduate Lauren Mooney, who have collaborated on a short film, filmed in the galleries with original costume design and spoken word written by the young creatives. Reprezent Radio stream a specially curated playlist live from their studio in Brixton and ERIC share career advice.

Monday 23 November 2020 at 19:00 on Zoom, tickets are available to book through the Tate website.

An online panel discussion will focus on the history of conflict and art, centred around the Turner’s Modern World exhibition at Tate Britain. JMW Turner famously painted conflicts from the classical era through to the Napoleonic wars and the exhibition will serve as a starting point for participants to question what role artists play in shaping memories and impressions of war. The discussion will bring together perspectives from art, history and sociology to explore how experiences of war continue to shape our understanding of the modern world. Margaret MacMillan, author of War: How Conflict Shaped Us and Gurminder Bhambra, Professor of Postcolonial and Decolonial Studies at the University of Sussex will participate in the panel discussion which will be chaired by Amy Concannon, curator of the exhibition.