Home » Exhibitions » Exhibition Review: Turner’s Modern World at Tate Britain from 28 October 2020 – 7 March 2021

Exhibition Review: Turner’s Modern World at Tate Britain from 28 October 2020 – 7 March 2021

© 2020 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

Tate Britain presents a landmark exhibition dedicated to JMW Turner (1775-1851), Turner’s Modern World explores how one of Britain’s greatest landscape painter found new ways to capture the tumultuous events of his day, from technology’s impact to the effects of modernisation on society. The exhibition brings together 160 key works, including major loans as well as paintings and rarely seen drawings from Tate’s Turner Bequest.

© 2020 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

Turner lived through dramatic times when Britain was at war and revolutions and independence struggles took place around the world. He also witnessed the way that capitalism and the industrial revolution was transforming the world around him. Whilst many artists saw the changes with disgust and saw the destruction of the pastoral Britain they loved, Turner was fascinated how the industry and infrastructure were changing Britain’s landscape.

© 2020 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

The French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars inspired Turner’s work with paintings such as The Battle of Trafalgar 1806-8 and Field of Waterloo 1818, but he also depicted aspects of life and work in Britain before, during and after conflict.

© 2020 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

The exhibition presents his recollections of wartime at home and his reflections on the reputations of Nelson, Napoleon and Wellington as well as on ordinary soldiers and civilians.

© 2020 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

In the Causes and Campaigns room, the exhibition reflects on Turner’s interest in social reform, including liberal and humanitarian causes such as Greek independence from Ottoman Turkey, the 1832 Reform Act and the abolition movement. Key works include The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons 1835, while A Disaster at Sea 1835 and Wreck of a Transport Ship c.1801  illustrates Turner’s interest in  maritime history.

© 2020 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

The final section of the exhibition brings a focus on Turner’s interest in steam technology and industrialisation, in many ways Turner’s late style was influenced by the modern world. In contrast with many of his contemporaries, Turner’s late work began to be less classical and more impressionistic with the emphasis of dynamic movement and vibrant colour. 

© 2020 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

Some of his major works are included in this section such as .Snow Storm 1842 as well as The Fighting ‘Téméraire’ 1839 and Rain, Steam and Speed 1844 on rare loan from the National Gallery.

© 2020 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

This fascinating exhibition is a reminder of how innovative and in some ways how radical Turner was. Turner was generally well respected by other artists and the public but was often seen as a bit of an outsider. Therefore whilst other artists saw the industrial revolution as to be something to ignore, Turner was fascinated by the changes and tried to capture some visual record of the rapidly changing world.  This exhibition provides plenty of evidence of the wide range of the artist’s abilities and illustrates how Turner has become less of an outsider but rather recognised as a pioneer in developing new styles that would be taken up be the impressionists and others.

Visiting London Guide Rating – Recommended

For more information or to book tickets, visit the Tate Britain website here

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