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The pictorial representation of seaports has a long history prior to Turner’s works, which are the focus of the special exhibition Turner’s Modern and Ancient Ports: Passages through Time. One antecedent the artist explicitly refers to is the treatment of the theme by Claude Lorrain in the seventeenth century. This talk seeks to elucidate the deeper resonances — anthropological, historiographical, and philosophical — that both painters gave this ostensibly mundane subject.
The grand-scale port scenes of Dieppe and Cologne that J. M. W. Turner painted in the mid-1820s are generally recognized as a turning point in his career. Combining on-site observation with inspiration from past masters and literary sources, Turner shocked the public and critics alike with the canvases’ brilliant golden light when he exhibited them at the Royal Academy in 1825 and 1826, respectively. This lecture explores how these two masterworks offer a clear statement of the direction Turner was taking landscape painting as the most original artist of his time.