JMW Turner was known to his contemporaries as a painter of the elements. In his landscape paintings, he created new and unusual combinations of earth, water, air and fire and closely examined their interactions. Turner’s vision of the elements as a singular power fused together by the forces of nature was linked to contemporary research in the natural sciences. New discoveries and insights replaced the traditional teachings of the four classical elements and freed them to be used by artists in new ways. In light of this background, landscape painting during Turner’s time was positioned to revolutionize artistic methods.
The exhibition Turner and the Elements is dedicated to this exceptional artistic endeavour. It shows 95 watercolours and paintings from the Tate in London and other British, German and American collections. Turner’s dynamic concept of landscape, his unconventional use of colour and his advances in abstract painting are interpreted in light of the four classical elements. The five subject areas, Earth, Air, Fire, Water and Fusion show how his painting technique was not only influenced by the latest scientific discoveries, but also appears to pull the viewer into the painting using the force of the natural elements. Thus, Turner focused on the viewer’s own subjective experience when contemplating a work – a visual strategy that was the subject of debate until the Impressionists. After the opening in Hamburg, the exhibition will travel to the Muzeum Narodowe in Krakow and then be shown at the newly opened Turner Contemporary in Margate, England.
Image: William Turner, The New Moon; or, ‘I’ve lost My Boat, You shan’t have Your Hoop’, 1840
Tate London © Tate, London 2011