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The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons, J.M.W. Turner ℂ.1835.

In 1835 Turner turned 60. An age when at that time senile decay was thought to set in. Yet it was after this age that he produced some of his most influential works. This exhibition at Tate Britain covers the period from 1835 until Turner’s death in 1851.

Turner didn’t ease himself into old age, the last ten or so years before his health failed him were some of his most productive. He continued to experiment with form, colour and technique. Producing monumental works in oil and later in watercolour. He continued to travel widely and it seems took to the hardship of travel in those days with more gusto than many younger men.

Included in the exhibition is an oil palette taken from Turner’s Chelsea studio after he died and preserved. Alongside this is a watercolour palette framed with some paining tools and two pairs of Turner’s spectacles. These have thick lenses and show that he had some eyesight issues associated with old age.

The arrangement of the exhibition flows though both time and style. Giving a good overview of the continued experimentation of Turner’s work. The Historical paintings set in Greece and Rome are some of the more complex works. Turner is blending light and sense with details and narrative. These are images that could be read by anyone. Even someone with no knowledge of the stories they depict.

The exhibition mixes together large works with smaller sketches, watercolours produced while traveling as well a selection of Turner’s sketchbooks. Together these provide a fascinating glimpse of how Turner worked.

From 1840 Turner started to paint on a smaller scale using square canvases these were then framed in the circle or octagon. The influence for this is possibly his visits to excavations in Rome. These oils covered mythical, biblical and modern subjects and were often paired. These works were the most controversial of this late period of Turner’s life, but they are also some of his most beguiling paintings.

Of course Turner is best known for the depictions of the sea. It is these paintings in the exhibition that are the most groundbreaking. These are the works that would influence the Impressionists, The Abstract Movement and the Abstract Impressionists and here the painting really is set free. The best way to view these images is to stand back and let them wash over you. The feeling of the sea really does come through.

The exhibition shows us the point at which art stated to become modern. Turner is using colour to suggest form and form to suggest motion. These are the works that influenced every important movement in painting that followed and are still influencing artists today.

Late Turner: Painting Set Free
10 September 2014 – 25 January 2015
Adult £16.50 (without donation £15.00)
Concession £14.50 (without donation £13.10)
Under 12s go free (up to four per parent or guardian)