Turner and Italy

15 July 2009 – 25 October 2009

15 July 2009 - 15 August 2009

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For the first time the Hungarian public will have the opportunity to admire an independent exhibition of Turner's works at the Budapest Museum of Fine Arts at an exhibition opening in the middle of July. The thematic exhibition entitled Turner and Italy will display over 80 works presented chronologically to show the career of the artist from his early landscapes to his near-abstract, late pictures. After Ferrara and Edinburgh, this special exhibition, which was compiled by the most distinguished English experts on the artist, will be presented in Budapest with certain modifications.

Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851) was one of the most significant landscape painters of the 19th century and indeed perhaps in the entire history of art. His hugely extensive oeuvre is characterised by thematic diversity and endless technical innovation. He painted true-to-life city- and landscapes - he was especially fond of depictions of the sea -, historical and mythological scenes, contemporary events, but his imagination was also inspired by literature.

Turner: Modern Rome – Campo Vaccino, 1839 <br> Edinburgh, National Gallery of Scotland
Turner: Modern Rome – Campo Vaccino, 1839
Edinburgh, National Gallery of Scotland

 

The exhibition entitled Turner and Italy organised in the Museum of Fine Arts will present the Hungarian public with the artist's works that he was inspired to create during and after his journey through Italy. The organisers of the exhibition interpreted the theme in the widest possible sense since the public will have the opportunity to see not only those works that were made in Italy or through the application of Italian motifs but also those that reflect the influence of the artists who worked there. The exhibition, which is divided into eight units in chronological order, begins with Turner's London studies from the end of the 1790s, when he became familiar with the works of early travellers, and ends with the masterpieces of his last artistic period. The thematic approach allows us to follow almost the entire career of the artist.

Turner first visited Italy in 1802 during a brief ceasefire in the chaos of the Napoleonic wars, more precisely to the frontier town of Aosta, and he only later made his trip proper when lasting stability in Europe made it safe to do so. Turner utilised his opportunities: between 1819 and the beginning of the 1840s he travelled to the sunny south on six occasions. The effect of the Mediterranean landscape and the light conditions he discovered there fundamentally altered his style, and his palette became lighter. Turner remained inquisitive; thanks to his unquenchable curiosity, he not only depicted the pictorial highlights of a traditional journey but also visually digested everything that he saw. The thousands of pencil drawings record his detailed observations, while hundreds of watercolours and oil paintings document his Italian experiences. Each phase of the artistic process is superbly rendered through the technical diversity of the works selected for the exhibition. The miniature drawings of his little pocket sketch books, the pencil drawings and watercolours made before finalising motifs, the illustrations of literary works, the oil sketches and large-scale paintings, as well as the prints based on the compositions held to be the most important are all various manifestations of the artist's captivating creative power. Since Turner's enthusiasm for Italy clearly left its mark on his art throughout his career, these works not only illustrate the periods of his stylistic development but also the process encapsulating the periods from his early traditional, topographical studies to his emotionally charged, atmospheric, later depictions born of his own imagination, which from a modern point of view seem to be abstract works of art.

The exhibition displays the works in eight parts. The first part (Dreaming of Italy) exhibits works by artists like Earlom, Woollett, Piranesi, and Claude Lorrain, through which Turner discovered and came to admire Italy when still young. The following parts (From the top of the mountains: Turner catches a glimpse of Italy, "Turner should come to Rome", Turner's journey to Rome) displays his works created as a result of impressions made on the artist during his trips between 1802 and 1820, and the works of that time when he was preparing to go to Rome. The part entitled Enchanted by Italian sunshine contains works that Turner made in the 1820s in England, while the Roman triumph displays the works he made during his lengthy sojourn in Rome in 1828. The part entitled The light of Venice presents his oil paintings and watercolours composed under the impressions made on him during his brief visit to Venice. The last unit entitled The radical old man provides an insight into what a bold Turner all too willing to experiment produced in his final years.

Turner: Dogana and Santa Maria della Salute, Venice, 1843 <br> National Gallery Art, Washington DC
Turner: Dogana and Santa Maria della Salute, Venice, 1843
National Gallery Art, Washington DC

Turner's works that he was inspired to create after going to Italy brought him success in London, perhaps because in many people's eyes his Italian paintings were embodiments of the desire to see another land. However, it would be far too simplistic to assume that the artist merely regarded Italy as the opposite of England, as Turner rather used landscape, buildings, light and colours to present the cycle of decline and rebirth of civilizations. During his career in England Turner utilised the inspiration he gained in Italy with great success. On the one hand, he held an annual exhibition of his large-scale oil paintings, which were popular with the public again and again, and on the other hand, he produced a number of watercolours the prints made of which brought him wide popularity outside London too. Turner was never a typical "romantic" artist, a lonely figure with a calling who was indifferent to how well his works were received in the market. Quite the contrary, he knew only too well how to promote himself and he had an aptitude for business, making a fortune from his pictures, which made it possible for him during the last period of his life to experiment and depart from the style he had adhered to up that point.

The exhibition was realised through the generous contribution and co-operation of the Tate Britain, which preserves the artist's legacy. Other works arrived at the exhibition from various public and private collections, primarily from Great Britain and the United States. The works that served as a source of inspiration for Turner come from the Museum of Fine Arts' own collection.

The curator of the exhibition series is James Hamilton.
The curators of the Budapest exhibition are Zsuzsa Gonda and Eszter Seres.

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Turner and Italy