| LONDON, March 13
LONDON, March 13 It may be the anti-climax
after one of the most hyped art exhibitions in British history,
but a new show at London's National Gallery exploring J.M.W.
Turner's debt to French painter Claude Lorrain has left some
"Turner Inspired: In the Light of Claude", which runs from
March 14-June 5, follows hard on the heels of the gallery's
record-breaking "Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of
Milan", which was always going to be a hard act to follow.
The Renaissance master had members of the public queueing
around the block to catch a glimpse of one of the largest ever
collections of Leonardo's paintings -- in the end more than
320,000 people filed past the treasured works.
Now the National Gallery is focusing on the relationship
between Turner, a hugely popular 19th century British artist
whose works feature prominently in public collections, and 17th
century landscape painter Claude Lorrain, often known as Claude.
It narrows in on Claude's depiction of light on canvas which
clearly found its way into the works of Turner from early on.
So great was his debt to Claude that Turner left two
canvases to the National Gallery -- "Dido Building Carthage" and
"Sun rising through Vapour: Fishermen cleaning and selling Fish"
on condition they were hung between two specific Claude works.
The links between the two artists can be traced back at
least to 1799, when Turner encountered two works by Claude at
the London home of William Beckford -- before public galleries
were established, private collectors were vital for providing
artists access to old masters.
Claude is best known for idealised classical scenes where
figures are dwarfed by towering natural and architectural
surroundings touched by light that often emanates from the
centre of the canvas.
Turner produced works that bore clear similarities --
"Crossing the Brook" of 1815, for example, presents an idyllic
view of the Tamar Valley in Devon, England.
And, curators of the show argued, he fell back on Claude's
lyrical compositions even when portraying the changing
industrial landscape of Britain in the 1820s and 1830s, as
roads, railways and ports were developing rapidly.
But some reviews took issue with the argument, criticising
organisers for stressing the links between the two artists and
not exploring their differences.
"Crucial though Turner's borrowings from Claude were at the
beginning of his career, the further he moved away from Claude's
influence the greater his work became," wrote Richard Dorment in
the Telegraph newspaper in a two-out-of-five star review.
Citing the example of Turner's "Keelmen Heaving in Coals by
Night" of 1835, while the receding perspective and central light
source recall Claude, the drama of the black hulks of the coal
ships and soot rising into the sky are radically different.
"After seeing the exhibition, I found myself writing a
single word in my notebook, but that word happens to be the kiss
of death for any exhibition: 'Why?'," Dorment concluded.
Adrian Searle of the Guardian also questioned the wisdom of
the Turner exhibition, particularly so soon after the critically
acclaimed Turner and the Masters show at Tate Britain in 2009.
He also pointed out that Turner and the Elements is still
open in Margate.
"Quite why the National Gallery is bringing together the
British landscape painter with the 17th-century French classical
landscapist, I can only wonder," Searle said.
(Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato)