Turner: The Sea at Liverpool Tate

Review by Jo Raven.

In line with Sea Liverpool 2005, as part of the Capital of Culture 2008, the Tate is currently exhibiting a selection of Turners paintings, prints and watercolours. Surprisingly nearly a third of all his paintings feature the sea rather than his infamous landscapes. Most of the images on display are studies or unfinished representations, many rarely seen before, insufficiently complete for exhibition or sale at the time of execution.

Through these works Turner tackles a variety of concerns. In ‘A lighthouse study for Eddystone’ and ‘Study at Sea’ he experiments with contrasting areas of light and dark to portray stormy seascapes. Fascinated with the changing effects of light, he reproduced the same image at different times of the day, as illustrated by ‘Sea Morning’ (1830), Sunset (1820-30) and Twilight over waters (1820-30).

Many of Turners pieces feature a humanising element, including the presence of boats and figures in his compositions. The highly abstract ‘Beach scene and on the coast paddlers’ and the oil on canvas ‘Coast scene with Fisherman and Boats’ are just two of the examples on display.

He also experimented using blue paper, the perfect medium for portraying foaming waves using gouache and watercolours to accentuate the white highlights. This can be seen in ‘The Breaking Wave’ and ‘Breaking Wave on Beach’ (1832).

My favourite works overall were ‘Stormy Sea with Blazing Wreck’ 1835-40 and ‘Study for the Boat in the Ades Coast (The Black Boat) 1826-36. The former, a large abstract oil on canvas, features a blazing wreck in the centre of the composition surrounded by the oppressive dark and overpowering sea. This highly textural piece seems to evoke the sheer power of nature. The latter work, despite its comparatively minute scale, emulates the same feeling – a tiny ink drawn black boat, nestling in a mist of stormy cloud and choppy sea.

Generally however, I found most of the exhibition repetitive, the links between individual pieces and the descriptions slightly tenuous, with many of the works being far to abstract to adequately identify exactly what Turner intended.

Turner: The Sea at Tate Liverpool until April 23rd 2006