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“Turner and the elements”

For the first time in Poland, the National Museum in Krakow presents an exhibition of works by William Turner, greatest of the English Romantic painters and precursor of Impressionism and Symbolism, an artist who, in his landscapes of water and clouds, came close to abstract painting.
Compiled by the Bucerius Kunst Forum in Hamburg, the exhibition consists of eighty-four of Turner's paintings of the elements, earth, air, fire and water. The works come from the Tate Gallery and several other English and American collections.

William Turner left well nigh thirty thousand works in all, most of which are sketches of landscapes. His concept of the genre was based on the theories of the French painter Pierre-Henri de Valenciennes (1750-1819), the first artist to paint landscapes directly from nature. De Valenciennes conceived the notion of the 'landscape portrait', an idea which resounded widely in artistic circles, prompting artists to paint real places, rather than composing imaginary landscapes. He was one of the artists instrumental in freeing landscapes from figures clad in historical or biblical costume and treating it as a subject in its own right. His outlook was shared by the painters of the English Romantic school. Unlike the politically engaged French Romantics, the two most famous of whom are Théodore Géricault and Eugène Delacroix, their English counterparts formed a group who expressed themselves first and foremost through landscapes. Alongside Turner, the leading lights of the movement were Samuel Palmer, Richard Parkes Bonington and John Constable.

English landscape painting was an embodiment, glorification and metaphor of Nature and it underscored humankind's place within the cosmos. The exhibition's curators have assigned the drawings and paintings on show in line with the four elements, earth, air, fire and water, and with their fusion. This last category encompasses paintings within which the elements are juxtaposed and interwoven. These are compositions where Turner renounced a spatial division creating separate parts. Here, the evolvement is centric; the picture springs outward in all directions from the heart of the painting. In his later works, it swirls.

Light plays a particular role in Turner's paintings. He himself stated time and again that his ideal was to paint pure light. In Modern Painters, first published in 1843, his friend, the painter John Ruskin, who was a great admirer of his work, wrote of him: And Turner - glorious in conception - unfathomable in knowledge - solitary in power - with the elements waiting upon his will, and the night and the morning obedient to his call, sent as a prophet of God to reveal to men the mysteries of this universe, standing, like the great angel of the Apocalypse, clothed with a cloud, and with a rainbow upon his head, and with the sun and stars given into his hand. It is to Ruskin, too, that we owe our gratitude for the information as to how in the final weeks before his death, Turner was wont to repeat, The sun is God. We see it in his paintings, as dawn's delicate glow, the bright rays of the sunrise, the full light of noon and the blood-red and crimson flames of sunset. Yet it is also there in the dramatic light that permeates the clouds and mists of a storm at sea.

William Turner (1775-1851) was born and lived in London. He was a member of the Royal Academy of Art. He left well nigh thirty thousands works, of which he bequeathed almost twenty thousand to the nation.

In the main, Turner painted watercolours, only rarely using oils. He made his sketches in pencil or painted them in watercolours and gouache.

Curators: Ines Richter, dr Ortrud Westheidera
Curatorial cooperation on behalf of the National Museum in Krakow: Magdalena Czubińska
Coordinators: Olga Jaros, Beata Foremna
Arrangement of the exhibition: Anna Maria Bojarowicz

“Turner and the elements”“Turner and the elements”

“Turner and the elements”“Turner and the elements”


  • Program regionalny
  • województwo maloposkie
  • Unia Europejska
The following Project is cofinanced by the European Union under the Małopolska Regional Operational Programme for the years 2007 – 2013