Turner on Tour ★★★★★ The National Gallery | Until February 19, 2023 (Free Entry)

This exhibition consists of two pictures on loan from The Frick Collection in New York. The two are not usually hung side by side, but the decision to do so provides wonderful insight both into Turner's development as an artist and into his pivotal place in the history of art. Harbour of Dieppe: Changement de Domicile was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1825 and its companion, Cologne, the Arrival of a Packet-Boat: Evening, followed in 1826. Both works arise from Turner's love of travel and display how his mastery of colour was translated from his water colours into his work in oil. Harbour of Dieppe shows Turner looking back to Claude Lorrain in its composition and handling of the subject matter, but there is a luminosity that is very much Turner's own. On the other hand, the crowded harbourscape of Cologne looks very much to the future, anticipating the skies of the Impressionists. While some contemporary critics derided Turner's bold colours and vibrant use of yellow in both pieces, their tremendous modern appeal results very much from seeing them in the light of the experiments by artistic movements that were to follow. At a period, when The National Gallery was in its infancy, Turner was also quite aware of his own place in the national art heritage, and it is clear that with these works he intends to insert himself in that narrative. There is also so much that can be read into these monumental paintings. The harbour serves as a place of exchange between the sea and the land and Turner's paintings balance the spheres of earth and sky placing human endeavours and pleasures in both larger contexts. This small, but astutely curated, exhibition offers an important window into Turner's work and his place in art history. It brings into contrast two masterpieces that will delight both the viewer's eye and their imagination.

Rated: ★★★★★

Reviewed by J.C.
Image: Joseph Mallord William Turner, 'Harbour of Dieppe: Changement de Domicile,' Exhibited 1825, but subsequently dated 1826. © The Frick Collection, New York / photo Michael Bodycomb

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