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Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851)

Turner is generally believed to have been a precursor of Impressionism, a late 19th centruy art movement, owing to the characteristics of his pictorical style.
In fact, Turner expresses the main motives of the Romantic sensibility in its emphasis on light and its effects on the landscape, seen as a crucial factor in the human perception of the passing of time. He often tried to caputre movement as a way to convey his experience of sublime aspects of nature, such as storms at sea and natural catastrophes. His way of portraying the violent power of heavy rain and snow revaels his fascination for a natural world uncontrolled by man, which he considered the free expression of God’s spirit. In the late period of his life he lost interest in the realistic rendering of solid objects and concentrated his attention on the play and radiance of light. His imagination was greatly stimulated by the newly invented machines, which imspired him because of their speed and power.

Rain, Steam and Speed

(The Great Western Railway. 1844, oil on canvas, National Gallery, London)

Rain, Steam and Speed is nowadays generally one of the Turner’s masterpieces. The first people to view it, declared it was unintelligibile, and whimsical. The picture shows one of the first express trains crossing the Thames at Maidenhead, London, although the objects are barely recognizable, which is a feature of the artist last paintings. Turner was almost the only great painter of his time to decipt the man-made marvels that were changing the appearance of the country so quickly. Instead of being afraid of his contemporaries were, Turner saw fumaces, steam vessels and railway as marvels of science and technology, even if he subtly admitted the threat to nature they represented.
Turner’s production synthesies the age in which he lived. His early pictures portray uncontaminated landscapes and idylic natural scence, while his works decipt technological inventions that were rapidly and exorabily turning England from an agricultural society into the most powerful industrial nation in the world.

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