Mystic Seaport Museum, in partnership with Tate, London, will host a major monographic exhibition devoted to the watercolors of one of Britain’s greatest painters: J.M.W. Turner (1775–1851). Mystic Seaport Museum will be the only North American venue for the exhibition.
The exhibition — curated by David Blayney Brown, Tate’s Manton Senior Curator of British Art 1790–1850 — will provide an exceptional opportunity to see key works spanning the entire career of the artist. A unique collection of about 90 works, the selection will provide a view into the evolution of the artist’s vision and creative process.
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The Turner Bequest received by the British nation in 1856, five years after the death of the painter J.M.W. Turner in 1851, is one of the largest, most revealing collections of a single artist’s work in existence. Mostly housed today at Tate Britain, London, it is a museum within a museum, containing the vast hoard of his lifetime’s work that Turner left in his house and studio. Besides 100 pictures he had kept to hang in a Turner Gallery he hoped would be created in his memory, the Bequest includes many oil sketches, studies and works in progress, and, most remarkably, tens of thousands of works on paper: watercolors, drawings, and sketchbooks.
As one of the most gifted draftsmen of his generation, and a superlative master of watercolor, Turner sold most of his finished and exhibited watercolors. What he kept for himself was different, but in no way inferior. It has a special character of its own, surely often closer to the artist’s true self than the work he made for the public. John Ruskin, one of the first to study the whole Bequest, observed how much of it had been made for Turner’s “own pleasure.” Intimate, expressive, experimental, it offers unique insights into the mind, imagination, and private practice of a great Romantic painter.
This selection from the Bequest allows us to look over Turner’s shoulder as he progresses from conventional beginnings as a topographical and architectural draftsman to embrace an extraordinary range of subject matter in a dynamic manner founded on a refined appreciation of light, color, and atmospheric effects. Joined in this exhibition by a small group of finished watercolors and oil paintings to show their impact on Turner’s public output, these most personal of his works remain as fresh and immediate today as when they first appeared on paper.
“JMW Turner: Watercolors from Tate” is on view October 5, 2019, to February 23, 2020, at Mystic Seaport Museum.