Finding Turner

18th Mar 2014


When I started composing Landscapes my knowledge of JMW Turner was zilch. Nothing. Nada. Although I hail from a creative background, art and appreciating art was not a part of my background. In fact, until I moved to London in 2000, I had never even been to an art gallery.

Since 2000 my interest in conceptual and contemporary art grew but still I had not fully encountered the art of the JMW Turner, the great nineteenth century landscape painter.

In order to compose a piece inspired by Turner there were limitless possibilities and interpretational approaches I could take. I didn’t know what I was looking but I knew that I needed to discover something truly unique about Turner to enable an authentic musical response to his art.

So, I set about on a journey of discovering as much as I could about the artist. I didn’t know where to start as I knew so little and so, as James Hamilton was curating Turner Contemporary’s Making Painting exhibit, I picked up a copy of his Turner: A Life biography to start my journey.

As I read, I widened my research and discovered the wider influence of poetry in Turner’s life and its influence on his art. From 1798, the Royal Academy started to allow artists to append quotations to their artworks in the catalogue entries. to this avail, Turner not only appended the poetry of his favourite poets from Milton, Thomson and Pope to the ethereal poetry of Mark Akenside, but he also started writing his own poetry.

Much of the authenticity of his poetry is questionable as he begged and borrowed favourite lines of verse into his poetry, of which the majority was not of a high standard. But here and there, the odd few lines of verse really are quite beautiful.

One poet of great inspiration to Turner was 18th century English poet Mark Akenside, writer of Pleasures of the Imagination. In fact, in one of Turner’s Perspective lectures at the Royal Academy he is quoted to have paraphrased Akenside as follows:

   “Painting and poetry flowing from the same fount mutually by vision, constantly comparing Poetic allusions by natural forms in one and applying forms found in nature to the other,meandering into streams by application, which reciprocally improve, reflect and refract, and heighten each others beauties like…mirrors”.

Turner believed that painting and poetry mutually enhanced the other and subsequently enhances the viewers sphere of understanding his art. For Turner combining both poetry and painting enhanced the expressive range of his art.

My research into JMW Turner continues. It is rather addictive and I am enjoying finding out so much about this prolific man. What I have found so far which has contributed to the composition of Landscapes is that the influence of poetry, and music, was profound.

If you would like to find out more about JMW Turner and I can recommend the following books and articles:

  •     Akenside, Mark (1818). The Pleasures of the Imagination. London: T. Cadell & W. Davies.
  •     Hamilton, James (1997). Turner: A Life. London: Hodder & Stoughton.
  •     Lindsay, Jack (ed). (1966). The Sunset Ship: The Poems of J.M.W. Turner. Suffolk: Scorpion Press.
  •     Livermore, Ann (1957). ‘Turner and Music’. Music & Letters, 38 (2), 170-179.
  •     Livermore, Ann (1957). ‘J.M.W. Turner’s Unknown Verse-Book’. In L.G.G.Ramsay and Helen Constock (eds), The Connoisseur Year Book, 1957. (pp. 78-86). London: The Connoisseur.
  •     Smiles, Sam (2000). J.M.W.Turner. London: Tate Publishing.
  •     Wilton, Andrew (1990). Painting and Poetry: Turner’s Verse Book and his work of 1804-1812. London: Tate Gallery Publications.
  •     Ziff, Jerrold (1964). ‘John Lanhorn and Turner’s ‘Fallacies of Hope’’. Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, 27, 340-342.
  •     Ziff, Jerrold (1964). ‘J.M.W. Turner on Poetry and Painting’. Studies in Romanticism, 3 (4), 193-215.

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