This small exhibition brings together watercolours by JMW Turner from five important art collections: Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, the Holburne Museum and the Victoria Art Gallery in Bath, The Wilson in Cheltenham as well as a private collection in Somerset.
JMW Turner, one of the foremost landscape painters in British art, began his career working in watercolour rather than oil. The works on display allow us a glimpse of his early ability to turn the topographical ‘data’ he gathered on sketching trips into carefully conceived and highly atmospheric images. By contrast, two images from the 1830s show the artist’s mature handling of watercolour – both in sketches and finished works.
By bringing together objects from collections all situated in the south west, the story of how such pictures are collected becomes relevant as well.
Early in his career, when he had just started his studies at the Royal Academy Schools, Turner gave watercolours and drawings to family members and friends, including his hosts in Bristol, the Narraway family, with whom he spent holidays in 1791 and 1792. These stylistically early works rose in value with Turner’s standing in British art. They became appreciated and seen as collectable in their own right. Yet a key reason for ‘regional’ art galleries to acquire a view of Bath or Bristol painted during the 1790s often lay in the geographical relevance of an image. By contrast, ‘typical’ and widely recognisable mature watercolours by Turner would have been collected entirely for their artistic merit.
Sponsored by Arts Council England – Frameworks Project Great Art in the South West