Young Mr Turner: The First Forty Years, 1775–1815

Df1adb0e32208bd54c45b4be955b6e26Tim Hilton at Literary Review:

Turner’s passage from boyhood in the rowdy surroundings of Maiden Lane to professional affluence was rapid. What did he think about the world in which he wished to rise? Shanes boldly reappraises and even retitles a 1793 watercolour of Windsor Castle, which Turner magically transferred to an imaginary landscape with echoes of the Avon Gorge near Bristol. He calls this work Britain at Peace. Around the royal residence we discern a factory, farmland, a canal and a pack mule that, we are told, represents commerce. The spire of a church is visible. The sky is calm. But there is no sign of the military. Such is the ideal life of our island for Turner at the age of eighteen or so – hence Shanes’s title.

Whatever we think of this interpretation, it is certain that Turner was a fine artist of peace or, often, of peace threatened. Such is the theme of many of his landscapes. However, his marine paintings tell us that the deepest conflicts are not with national enemies but with the sea itself, in which frail boats are helpless when faced with the high waves of storm. Turner was the first marine painter to depict the waters as heavenly or demonic.

When did he first excel as a mature artist? Perhaps with the magnificent Battle of Trafalgar of 1808, which treats that conflict as though it were a clash of metaphysical forces. Turner was then in his early thirties, yet painted like an old master.

more here.