Alex Patterson our Assistant Curator of Fine Art has been busy working on our new Turner exhibition over the past few months. Now that the show is open, she has been reflecting on what she’s discovered about Turner along the way…
“It’s been fascinating learning about JMW Turner for our new exhibition, ‘Turner: travels, light and landscape’ at the Lady Lever Art Gallery. It’s been an opportunity for me to discover many interesting details about Turner as a person and a painter.
The ‘Liber Studiorum’ has become a particular favourite of mine. It is a series of 71 prints published between 1807 and 1819. It illustrates Turner’s wide range of ideas and arguments for establishing Landscape painting as a genre of its own.
Turner was a competitive man who publicly rivalled the late French painter Claude Lorrain in a battle to produce the best and most prolific landscapes. The ‘Liber Studiorum’ was actually based on a book that Claude had produced over a hundred years before.
I was amazed to discover that the talented Turner was not only a skilled painter but he also mastered the art of mezzotint engraving. He produced some of the most beautiful and stunning compositions with this technique which can be seen in all its splendour in the ‘Liber Studiorum’ prints.
Turner was also a shrewd businessman. He often quarrelled with the engravers of the ‘Liber Studiorum’ over their prices and refused to pay the new, more competitive rates that were demanded of him!
Documenting this series for our online collections was a real challenge and in a race to complete the research before the online launch we really had to rally together. We had countless debates about the subject matter of each composition; is it a woman’s or a man’s hat? What sort of tree is that? How many boats can you see in the distance? The debates seemed endless! But we finally came up with numerous creative ways to describe these striking compositions with all their castles, abbeys, mountains and rivers – not to mention the sheep!
I really recommend taking a look at the stunning selection we have on display, so you can experience what is thought to represent the beginning of landscape painting as we know it today. And don’t forget to check out the complete ‘Liber Studiorum’ series now available to explore online, by visiting our ‘Watermark’ Works on Paper collection pages.
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