As has been the custom for more than a century, January marks the annual, free Turner exhibition of 38 watercolours at the Scottish National Gallery in Edinburgh.
The reputation of Joseph Mallord William Turner as Britain’s most celebrated artist has been given a huge boost with the current success of the Mike Leigh's Oscar tipped biopic Mr Turner. That and a blockbuster exhibition of the artist’s late works at Tate Britain in London.
Sir Henry Vaughan, the London art collector who bequeathed the works, stipulated that these delicate watercolours should be ‘exhibited to the public all at one time, free of charge, during the month of January’, to limit their exposure to strong daylight.
The colourful images are for many a highlight in what is a relatively quiet, wintry month.
Sanjay Singh, Trusts Manager at People’s Postcode Lottery, said, “We are delighted that our players are continuing to support National Galleries of Scotland – and especially the Turner in January exhibition, which has not only become a firm favourite with a huge number of long-standing visitors to the Galleries, but also grabs the attention of so many new visitors each and every year. By supporting fantastic organisations like the Galleries players are ensuring that works of renowned artists, such as Turner, remain accessible to all.”
Turner was born in London in 1775, the son of a barber and wig-maker, and proved himself as an accomplished draughtsman at an early age. He first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1790, and went on to become perhaps the most prolific and innovative of all British artists. From the 1790s onwards he undertook sketching tours in England, Wales and Scotland, gathering material for watercolours and oil paintings, and discovering the attractions of awe-inspiring mountainous landscapes, which became a major pre-occupation in his work. He made his first journey to Europe in 1802, and from 1817, after the end of the Napoleonic wars, made annual visits across the Channel for much of the rest of his life.
The watercolours in the Vaughan bequest range from early wash drawings of the 1790s, to the colourful and atmospheric late works executed on visits to the Swiss Alps during the 1830s and 1840s. Other highlights include a series of spectacular views of Venice made during Turner’s third and final stay in the city in 1840 which demonstrate the artist’s mastery of atmospheric lighting effects.
Turner’s life-long fascination with the drama of nature is also evident in works such as Loch Coruisk, Skye and his stormy treatment of the Bell Rock Lighthouse, designed by Robert Stevenson and built on a submerged reef off the Angus coast, south-east of Arbroath, between 1807 and 1811.
Contrasting with these depictions of savage elemental forces, this year the exhibition will also feature a watercolour on loan to the Gallery from a private collection. Virginia Water is one of a pair of views of the royal pleasure grounds and grand artificial lake in Windsor Great Park executed by Turner for King George IV in about 1829, although not in the end acquired for the Royal Collection. It depicts the King’s opulent Royal barge on the lake, with the recently built Chinese Fishing Temple, designed by the architect Jeffry Wyatville, shown in the background.
Also on display will be Turner’s 1820 view of Rome, Rome from Monte Mario, which was accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to the Gallery in 2011.
Turner in January: The Vaughn Bequest runs 1 - 31 January 2015 at The Scottish National Gallery on the Mound. Admission is free.