Words by Kate Chesters
This exhibition at the Lady Lever Art Gallery in Port Sunlight Village features over 30 works by one of the most famous British artists, Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851). Turner is best known for his vibrant oil and watercolour paintings which capture sublime and dramatic landscapes through his extraordinary and outstanding use of light.
The exhibition at the Lady Lever Art Gallery is reasonably small with the works being displayed in three rooms. There is a calm atmosphere in the space as the walls have been painted a very light blue – a fitting colour as Turner’s work is all about the sky, light and weather. Interestingly, the framing of the works varies from traditional gilt frames to modern plain wood. This contrast is further echoed in the hanging of the works – the Lady Lever throughout its main gallery spaces operates a traditional Royal Academy style of hanging, however, the Turner exhibition is much more modern, allowing greater space for the works to breathe.
The works are chronologically ordered, however, there are noticeable themes amongst the works as time goes by. The first room features a variety of media including mezzotint engravings and etchings – materials I do not tend to associate with the artist. Turner, we are told, believed in five categories of landscape painting – architectural, historical, mountainous, marine, and pastoral – all of which are displayed in the first room as mezzotint etchings. The use of these works, along with oil paintings of Wells Cathedral and Linlithgow Palace, is an excellent introduction to the exhibition as they celebrate the artist’s architectural skills and exquisite technical ability.
The second room in the exhibition features a more adventurous use of colour in the paintings. The works are all quite small; however, this demonstrates the artist’s ability to capture the ideas and details of a vast landscape on a small scale. The third room displays works made by Turner in the later years of his life, with the colours used being the brightest and boldest of the works so far.
My main issue throughout this exhibition was the quality of lighting. A sign was displayed stating that, in order to preserve and protect the paintings, the lights were to be kept low. This affected the quality of viewing certain works – brighter lights would have brought out a greater vibrancy from the colours – however, for conservation purposes this issue could not be helped.
Books about Turner are provided on benches for visitors to examine at their leisure and each art work is accompanied by a short text. These texts provide interesting anecdotes regarding each work, allowing the viewer to get a sense of where and why the painting was made. Just the right amount of information is provided in these labels in order to allow visitors to still have a unique experience with the art works.
The presentation of information in this exhibition is executed in a way to appeal from first time visitors to art academics; references to specific art words and terms are included in wall texts (‘vignette’, Royal Academy, ‘grand style’), however, a printed glossary is available for visitors to refer to as they move through the exhibition. A computer is also provided to encourage further interactive research. These are nice touches by the gallery – it gives visitors the option for greater learning without feeling talked down to, or assuming that visitors know more than they already do.
A talk by the curator Charlotte Keenan takes place on the 7 May at 14.00 – all other events are fully booked which speaks for itself about the quality and popularity of this exhibition!
Turner: Travels, Light and Landscape at the Lady Lever Art Gallery runs from 14 February to 1 June 2014