Angel in the Sun

Angel in the Sun: Turner's Vision of History

Copyright Date: 1999
Pages: 280
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  • Book Info
    Angel in the Sun
    Book Description:

    Turner was deeply affected by the world in which he lived, the sciences that explained it, and the conflicts and accomplishments of his society. He wove these strands into the dense fabric of the historical pictures he created, pictures that were extremely varied, complex, original, and controversial. In Angel in the Sun Gerald Finley untangles the various thematic strands running through Turner's art, including the intersection of private and public histories, classical and biblical history and contemporary events, and science and religion, and shows how Turner's use of light and colour played an important role in conveying these ideas.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-6731-3
    Subjects: Art & Art History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Figures
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. Colour Plates
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  7. Illustrations
    (pp. xvii-2)
  8. 1 Turner and History: A Brief Introduction
    (pp. 3-5)

    J.M.W. TURNER (1775-1851), the celebrated English painter of historical landscapes, was born into an age of political and intellectual ferment, an age galvanized by revolution - by the American Revolution, the French Revolution, and the Industrial Revolution. The dramatic changes that resulted had raised and sharpened Britain’s consciousness of the present, heightened its awareness of the passage of time, and made it responsive to perceived relationships between events and conditions of past and present, relationships that are implicit in much historical writing of the first half of the nineteenth century. Turner, not unexpectedly, shared this awareness and was conscious of...

  9. 2 The Louvre and the Royal Academy Lectures
    (pp. 6-18)

    While still an adolescent, J.M.W. Turner, whose father was a barber and wigmaker, contemplated a future more ambitious than that of limning topographical views. This precocious youth, who had been working with architectural and landscape draughtsmen, was granted admission to the Plaister Academy of the Royal Academy Schools in 1789 and to the Academy’s life classes in 1792. Although the mandate of the Royal Academy was to advanceistoriaand although students were instructed in its virtues, the Academy provided little assistance to this ambitious young artist who was determined to become a painter of landscape and, toward the end...

  10. 3 Greece and Italy
    (pp. 19-45)

    The Scope of Turner’s Reading for his perspective lectures is an affirmation of the overriding importance of study to this maturing artist. One of the subjects that had fascinated him was the classics. From a relatively early age, concerned with his development as a painter of history, he probably heeded Reynolds’ recommendation that universal themes from classical fable and history be selected as subjects for painting in the “great style.”¹ He would have been receptive to such advice. Intellectually and emotionally he and his contemporaries still considered themselves close to the Greco-Roman world, nurtured as they were on its cultural...

  11. 4 The Dynamics of Myth and Legend
    (pp. 46-82)

    The Affiliation of the eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century public with the culture of the classical past was often stimulated by pictorial and sculptural imagery that depicted events from myth and legend. Myths and legends, the essential material of much traditional history painting, were understood to convey universal truths; they deal with unchanging human problems and consider divine powers that determine destinies.

    Myths may involve processes or metamorphoses epitomizing nature’s cycles that are frequently associated with love and passion. These myths include, for example, the stories of Europa and the Bull, Venus and Adonis, Narcissus and Echo, Apollo and Daphne, Bacchus...

  12. 5 Rural Retreats
    (pp. 83-93)

    Turner’s Paintings of ancient myth and legend not only reflect his sustained interest in the classical past but, as has been noted, his dedication to the category of historical landscape. However, he often prepared history paintings of a different kind, paintings that are concerned with various regions and localities in England where private histories intersect with public ones. His subjects of this latter type are therefore less remote and often include settings to which he, himself, often felt a personal attachment.

    Turner’s close identification with particular rural localities is a defining characteristic of romanticism that he shared with other artists,...

  13. 6 “In memory’s mystic band”: Commemorating the Past and Present
    (pp. 94-113)

    Memory is the Storehouse of the human mind; it keeps the past alive, and in doing so establishes the unity of experience. It was particularly valuable for Turner in the world he knew, a world that had already undergone and was still undergoing rapid change. As a painter he wished to recall and preserve elements that had disappeared or were changing. In certain respects he can be considered as both inheritor and custodian of the past. In his historical landscapes he sometimes measured the past against the present and, conversely, the present against the past. However, as he lived in...

  14. 7 “Lets my words / Out live the maker”
    (pp. 114-128)

    The Commemorative Aspect of Turner’s historical landscapes depicting or alluding to painters and poets is sometimes complex, especially when those depictions or allusions possess an autobiographical dimension. In a remarkable instance of prescience, in 1796 Turner audaciously celebrated his own future fame. In that year he exhibited the imposing watercolour of theInterior of Westminster Abbey(fig. 65), where he had inscribed his name and the date of his birth on a stone slab of the abbey floor.¹

    However, the first truly elaborate commemoration of himself appears to be embodied in the complex historical landscapeRome, from the Vatican(fig....

  15. 8 Steam Triumphant: Bane or Benefit?
    (pp. 129-147)

    Turner was born into an age galvanized by revolution.The established economic and social order of the country that he knew was being changed before his eyes. Physical evidence of the British past that he admired was fast disappearing as a result of industrialization. Initially in his paintings he was alert to and seems largely to have accepted the remarkable transformations that were occurring. Later, however, there is the strong suggestion that his attitude altered, that he became more ambivalent toward these changes. He seems to have come to realize that progress should be viewed within the larger context of civilization’s...

  16. 9 The “Terrible Muses”: Astronomy and Geology
    (pp. 148-173)

    Turner’s engagement with ideas of the new technologies was paralleled by his curiosity about science – that structured body of knowledge of the organic and inorganic aspects of the world. Technology was very much part of Turner’s view of the contemporary scene, and, not unexpectedly, so was science. Science, in explaining the world as it is, had also, in the not too distant past, begun to shed light on the character of the planet earth and its development. By the eighteenth century scientists had come to the conclusion that the world was not static but dynamic; this led to the historicization...

  17. 10 Biblical History: Fall to Apocalypse
    (pp. 174-186)

    Like many romantics, Turner may have believed that by understanding the workings of nature he could heal the profound rift between nature and humanity that was the consequence of the Fall.¹ There is no evidence Turner was especially devout, yet religious ideas often furnished valuable underpinnings for his paintings’ themes and, on a number of occasions, provided their subject matter. Of particular interest are those of the 1840s that were influenced by his biblical and visionary illustrations of the previous decade.² Two of these pictures are theDawn of Christianity (Flight into Egypt)(RA 1841) andThe Angel Standing in...

  18. 11 Light and Colour: Theory and Practice
    (pp. 187-199)

    The omnipotence of light that Turner associated with God fascinated him throughout his long life. His engagement with the science of optics and theories of light and colour was an expression of that fascination. He had limited faith in the value of theory, believing that it could fetter creativity. Yet he was not entirely negative about it. Although he had much more respect for science, he believed that both theory and science could be of benefit if they could further his artistic aims. He believed that they could and, indeed, they did. During his career there were several periods when...

  19. 12 “The dark’ening Deluge”: Shade and Darkness and Light and Colour, the Late Deluge Pictures
    (pp. 200-208)

    The Paired Historical LandscapesShade and Darkness – the Evening of the DelugeandLight and Colour (Goethe's Theory)the Morning After the DelugeMoses Writing the Book of Genesisare remarkably complex works that are among those impressive few and radically different visionary pictures by Turner of the last decade.² When exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1843, these two paintings, with their then vivid, glazed colouring were not asuccès d’estime. The gallery-going public must have been baffled by them; many critics were. TheSpectator’scritic (13 May) perceived “in these two octagonal-shaped daubs only two brilliant problems – chromatic...

    (pp. 209-210)

    Ruskin remarked that Turner’s genius was “exceptional, both in its kind and in its height: and although his elementary modes of work are beyond dispute authoritative and the best that can be given for example and exercise, the general tenor of his design is entirely beyond the acceptance of common knowledge, and even of safe sympathy. For in his extreme sadness, and in the morbid tones of mind out of which it arose, he is one with Byron and Goethe; and is no more to be held representative of general English landscape art than Childe Harold or Faust are exponents...

  21. Appendix
    (pp. 211-214)
  22. Notes
    (pp. 215-237)
  23. Selective Bibliography
    (pp. 238-244)
  24. Index
    (pp. 245-247)