Tate Britain

Turner Exhibited: Ambition and Reputation

Main Floor Clore Gallery
Joseph Mallord William Turner, ‘Self-Portrait’ c.1799
Joseph Mallord William Turner, Self-Portrait c.1799. Tate

See some of Turner’s major works that helped change the course of British painting over his fifty-year career

The three central rooms show works Turner painted for exhibitions or other displays. Many were first seen at the Royal Academy, where from 1790 to 1850 he exhibited almost every year, presenting a wide variety of subjects and constantly evolving his style. While collectors and critics flocked to the Academy, on Varnishing Days, when pictures were finished before the exhibition opened, he upstaged artist colleagues with his technical virtuosity.

In the 1790s the Academy promoted the Grand Style, epitomised by classical or biblical narratives by painters like Titian, Poussin, Rembrandt or Claude Lorrain. Turner’s early exhibits were often homages to the Old Masters. Some were even commissioned as pendants to them. Over time, their influence yielded to his own unique creative imagination, expressive handling and mastery of light and colour. Outstripping contemporary taste, his later exhibited pictures mystified conservative critics.

As well as the Academy, Turner sometimes showed at the rival British Institution. From 1804, Turner’s Gallery displayed more personal or experimental work as well as pictures unsold or reserved for his bequest.His paintings and watercolours could also be seen in the private houses and galleries of patrons and collectors. Occasionally, he exhibited abroad.


Tate Britain
London SW1P 4RG
Plan your visit

Art in this room

All rooms in this display

We recommend

  • Take the Turner Quiz

    What did Tate find in one of Turner’s sketchbooks and which unusual material did he use in his paint? Test …

Find out more