Turner and the Romantics, Tate Britain

In the visual arts, Romanticism first showed itself in landscape painting, where from as early as the 1760s British artists began to turn to wilder landscapes and storms, and Gothic architecture, even if they had to make do with Wales as a setting. Caspar David Friedrich and J. M. W. Turner were born less than a year apart in 1774 and 1775 respectively and were to take German and English landscape painting to their extremes of Romanticism, but both their artistic sensibilities were formed when forms of Romanticism was already strongly present in art. John Constable, born in 1776, stayed closer to the English landscape tradition, but in his largest “six-footers” insisted on the heroic status of a patch of the working countryside where he had grown up—challenging the traditional hierarchy of genres, which relegated landscape painting to a low status. Turner also painted very large landscapes, and above all, seascapes. Some of these large paintings had contemporary settings and staffage, but others had small figures that turned the work into history painting in the manner of Claude Lorrain, like Salvator Rosa a late Baroque artist whose landscapes had elements that Romantic painters repeatedly turned to. Friedrich often used single figures, or features like crosses, set alone amidst a huge landscape, “making them images of the transitoriness of human life and the premonition of death.”

Together with a number of young artists Turner was able, in the London house of Dr. Monro, to copy works of the major topographical draughtsmen of his time and perfect his skills in drawing. But the curious atmospherical effects and illusions of the watercolours of John Robert Cozens, some of which were present in Monro’s house, went far further than the neat renderings of topography. The solemn grandeur of his Alpine views were an early revelation to the young artist and showed him the true potential of the watercolour medium, conveying mood instead of information.

Other groups of artists expressed feelings that verged on the mystical, many largely abandoning classical drawing and proportions. These included William Blake and Samuel Palmer and the other members of the Ancients in England, and in Germany Philipp Otto Runge. Like Friedrich, none of these artists had significant influence after their deaths for the rest of the 19th century, and were 20th century rediscoveries from obscurity, though Blake was always known as a poet, and Norway’s leading painter Johan Christian Dahl was heavily influenced by Friedrich. The Rome-based Nazarene movement of German artists, active from 1810, took a very different path, concentrating on medievalizing history paintings with religious and nationalist themes.

Tate Britain

Tate Britain is an executive non-departmental public body and an exempt charity. Its mission is to increase the public’s enjoyment and understanding of British art from the 16th century to the present day and of international modern and contemporary art

Tate Britain is the national gallery of British art from 1500 to the present day As such, it is the most comprehensive collection of its kind in the world.

The main display spaces show the permanent collection of historic British art, as well as contemporary work It has rooms dedicated to works by one artist.

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