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‘THESE IMAGES ARE A
POTENT, SEDUCT IVE MEANS
OF VICARIOUS TRAVEL'
‘Approach to VOPIGOK
A new exhibition at the National Galleries focuses on JMW Turner's love affair with Italy, and the country's influence on his work, as Liz Shannon discovers
n exhibition of paintings by JMW Turner may
seem a time-worn prospect. but the National
Galleries are offering a new take on the man and his work. ‘Turner came to Scotland six times. but he visited Italy on seven occasions.‘ says (‘hristopher Baker. Deputy Director of the National Galleries and organiser of Turner and Italy. ‘()ther than Britain. Turner loved Italy more than any other country.‘
Any notion of Turner Ioafing around Italy is quashed by the realities of I‘)th century travel. which required that the artist equip himself with a sword. which he rakishly kept concealed in an umbrella. ‘One of the important themes of the exhibition involves the practicalities of travelling across Europe at this time.‘ says Baker. ‘We know that Turner was involved in two major coach crashes. and that he was worried about bandits.’ Hence the umbrella/sword.
The exhibition follows Turner from his formation in London. schooled in Italian Classical and Renaissance traditions. through early experiences of Italy. to his last visit. and includes works in oil and watercolour. sketchbooks and books taken from his library. Baker is particularly excited by this latter prospect: ‘These books allow us to get inside Turner’s head. They illustrate his bank of knowledge — being able to include them in the exhibition is a great coup.‘
Italy was a continual inspiration. as demonstrated by the artist’s repeated visits. ‘Turner was the youngest ever Royal Academician. and visiting Italy was central to his becoming a fully rounded artist.’ says Baker. ‘Many artists only visited Italy once. but Turner surpassed all his contemporaries.‘ Although he
completed around 24 sketchbooks during his lirst trip to Rome. Italy did more than just provide subjects for artworks. As Baker points out. "I‘urner took his experience in Italy home with him. and used it to interpret and depict his British subjects. Ilis experience of Mediterranean light was absolutely vital.‘ Thus. the exhibition brings together works painted in and featuring both Britain and Italy. from a number of high-Proﬁle international collections. "I‘he observations that 'I'urner made on his \islls to Italy had a cumulative quality] Baker continues. 'I844‘s ‘Approach to Venice~ was completed in Britain in the artist’s studio. bill it depicts a perfect dream of the city.‘ It moved John Ruskin to rhapsodise that it was 'the tnost perfectly beautiful piece of colour of all that I have seen produced by human hands. by any means. or at any period.‘
Turner's love of Italy echoed a popular romantic enthusiasm for the country. which is still alive today. A canny businessman. Turner‘s art was not restricted to those who could personally view his paintings: turning his watercolours into popular engravings was key to his success. ”These views were meant for armchair travellers in Britain who were not in a position to travel themselvesf says Baker. 'They were a potent. seductive means of vicarious travel.’ While the credit crunch. rather than marauding bandits. may keep people borne this summer. Turner's work may once again enable us to escape to foreign lands.
Tumer and Italy, National Gallery Complex, Edinburgh, Fri 27 Mar-Sun 7 Jun.
THE BEST EXHIBITIONS
* Sometimes Making Something Leads to Nothing Group show covering both main galleries at lngleby. which explores transformation through works by Peter Liversidge. Callum lnnes, Iran do Espirito Santo and Cornelia Parker. lng/ehy Gallery, Edinburgh. until Sat 78 Mar.
* The Dirty Hands Last chance to catch Clare Stephenson and Alex Pollard's duel exhibition, which explores themes of Bohemian excess through sculpture and painting. CCA. Glasgow, until Sat 27 Mar.
* Toby Paterson: Ever Growing Never Old Highly recommended exhibition which encapsulates Paterson's experience during his travels in Central and Eastern Europe. while staying rooted in the artist's long-established interest in the physical presence and ideological and political background of the modern built environment. See review, page 88. The Modern Institute, Glasgow, until Thu 9 Apr.
* Between Earth and Heaven: The Architecture of John Lautner Comprehensive retrospective covering the work of the highly influential and pioneering architect. whose buildings have appeared in such films as Diamonds are Forever, Body Double and The Big Lebowski. The Lighthouse, Glasgow. until Sun 26 Jul.
* Turner and Italy New exhibition at the National Galleries. focusing on JMW Turner's love affair with Italy. See preview, left. National Gallery Comp/ex, Edinburgh, Fri 27 Mar-Sun 7 Jun.
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