Joseph Mallord William Turner, ‘Heavy Clouds above a Landscape’ c.1820–40
Joseph Mallord William Turner
Heavy Clouds above a Landscape c.1820–40

John Constable, best known for his preoccupation with recording clouds at different times of the day and year, once wrote ‘I have done a good deal of skying’. Featuring the work of six Romantic artists, this display examines a range of approaches to representing atmospheric effects in landscape, from the diagrammatic exemplars of Alexander Cozens, to the Sublime, dramatic sunsets and storms of Turner.

In the eighteenth century, Alexander Cozens was one of the first British artists to make the representation of skies and clouds a special category of study. He devised various systems for composing landscapes, evident in his published treatises, paying attention to the treatment of atmospheric ‘circumstances’ which painters could develop for dramatic effect. While Cozens’ ideas were influential to the next generation’s direct observations of sky, by the nineteenth century, as the new discipline of meteorology took hold, artists could combine pictorial experimentation with scientific accuracy. John Constable recorded clouds at different times of the day and year, often noting the direction and force of the wind. J.M.W. Turner, who was more concerned with compositional variety than meteorology, generalised his observations to evoke mood.

When I was a boy I used to lie for hours on my back watching the skies, and then go home and paint them
J.M.W. Turner

After Turner and Constable, David Cox and other artists continued to make atmospheric effects the focus of compositions, often emphasising their forms over narrative context. The Romantic artists featured here represented skies in a variety of media from oils to watercolour, chalk, pencil and engraving. Modern and contemporary artists have continued to extend the expressive range of this subject matter in new media such as photography.

This display has been devised by curators Julia Beaumont-Jones and Christine Kurpiel.