5 Turner landscapes: then and now

Wednesday 01 October 2014
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A new exhibition at London’s Tate Britain gallery displays many previously unseen works by the landscape artist JMW Turner. We teamed up with the Tate and picked out 5 paintings where Turner captured the Victorian landscape of Britain, and compare what the same spots offer today.

Turner’s view 1843: Brighton Beach, with the Chain Pier in the Distance, from the West

JMW Turner Brighton Beach, with the Chain Pier in the Distance, from the West 1843 Oil paint on canvas Support: 913 x 1219 x 21mm Tate. Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856 JMW Turner
Brighton Beach, with the Chain Pier in the Distance, from the West 1843
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 913 x 1219 x 21mm
Tate. Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856

 

  Only in relatively recent times had the tranquil fishing village of Brighthelmston transitioned into the fashionable town of Brighton. The booming health trend for sea-bathing brought development in Turner’s day, and the Chain Pier featured attractions to amuse the rich and royal visitors to the town.  

Today’s view: Family-friendly Brighton beach

Brighton beach and pier Brighton beach and pier

 

  Still very fashionable, but no longer reserved for high society, Brighton today is known as London-on-sea. It captures big city diversity in a relaxing seaside setting with all the fun of the fair. The pebble beach and crashing waves might be the same as in Turner’s day, but today’s pier pulses with rides and amusement arcades.  

Turner’s view 1844: Rain, Steam and Speed – The Great Western Railway

JMW Turner Rain, Steam, and Speed - The Great Western Railway 1844 support: 910 x 1218 mm Oil paint on canvas The National Gallery, London JMW Turner
Rain, Steam, and Speed - The Great Western Railway 1844
support: 910 x 1218 mm
Oil paint on canvas
The National Gallery, London

 

  One of Brunel’s masterpieces, the Maidenhead Railway Bridge crosses the River Thames near Windsor, and was opened in 1839. This would have been a pioneering image for its day – Turner was the first major European artist to feature the new technology of the age – steam power.  

Today’s view: Maidenhead Railway Bridge, crossing the River Thames

Maidenhead Railway Bridge © High Level Photography/REX Maidenhead Railway Bridge © High Level Photography/REX

 

  Now Grade I listed, Maidenhead Railway Bridge still carries the Great Western Main Line that courses out from London to serve the West of Britain. If you’re not on board, walk along the Thames towpath underneath the bridge and you can try out the spectacular echo of the Sounding Arch.  

Turner’s view 1842: Snow storm – steam boat off a Harbour’s Mouth

JMW Turner Snow Storm - Steam Boat off a Harbour's Mouth exhibited 1842 Oil paint on canvas support: 914 x 1219 mm painting Tate. Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856 JMW Turner
Snow Storm - Steam Boat off a Harbour's Mouth exhibited 1842
Oil paint on canvas
support: 914 x 1219 mm
painting
Tate. Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856

 

  Turner allegedly told friends he ‘got the sailors to lash me to the mast to observe [the storm]; I was lashed for four hours and did not expect to escape but felt bound to record it if I did.’ He may have based this dramatic scene on HMS Fairy that sailed from Harwich in November 1840 and sank with all hands in a violent storm.

 

Today’s view: The seaside and harbour town of Harwich

The Pier Hotel at Harwich's harbour front The Pier Hotel at Harwich's harbour front

 

  The historic harbour town of Harwich has lots of little gems, like the Victorian Halfpenny Pier, and one of the oldest working cinemas. Americans will be intrigued by Christopher Jones’s house – he was the master of the Mayflower that launched in Harwich and led the Pilgrim voyage of 1620.  

Turner’s view 1837: Bamborough Castle

JMW Turner Bamborough Castle 1837 JMW Turner
Bamborough Castle
1837

 

  Painted when he was just 22, Turner created a fictional scene of a ship approaching the coast with the tall Norman walls of Bamburgh Castle presiding in the background. The work was never publicly displayed, but when it was first seen, it was hailed as ‘one of the finest water-colour drawings in the world’.  

Today’s view: Bamburgh Castle, Northumberland

Bamburgh Castle, Northumberland © blightylad1 on flickr Bamburgh Castle, Northumberland © blightylad1 on flickr

 

  Bamburgh Castle still stands much as Turner would’ve seen it – presiding over a long stretch of windswept beach. The dramatic setting outside belies a cosy, lived-in feel when you look round the inside of the castle, which is still in use to this day.  

 

Turner’s view 1840: The Falls of the Clyde

JMW Turner Falls of the Clyde 1840 JMW Turner
Falls of the Clyde
1840

 

  The falls, south of Glasgow, had become an attraction for tourists at the end of the 18th century. Turner’s fascination with the effects of light converts a picturesque scene into one that shows the elemental forces of nature.  

Today’s view: Falls of Clyde, Scotland

Falls of Clyde, Scotland Falls of Clyde, Scotland

 

  The Falls of Clyde today are set within the World Heritage Site of New Lanark in Scotland. Stride out on scenic walks through the lush woodland, keeping an eye out for all sorts of wildlife along the way.   The EY Exhibition: Late Turner - Painting Set Free runs until 25 January 2015 at Tate Britain, which is near Westminster in London. The nearest tube is Pimlico, but the gallery is also walkable along the river from Parliament Square or you can hop on the river boat to or from its sister gallery, Tate Modern, and then you can combine your visits.

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