Great Landscapes: Turner

Waterloo was 200 years ago this June. Expect stacks of articles, programmes etc, and rightly so. In art it has tended to be depicted as a cluttered, violent scene, and there’s plenty of these, many skilfully done. Here is Andrieux’s famous panorama of part of the scene – the battle was too big to get it all in one painting, realistically.

Clement-Auguste Andrieux, La bataille de Waterloo, Musée national du Château de Versailles, 1852
Clement-Auguste Andrieux, La bataille de Waterloo, Musée national du Château de Versailles, 1852

Andrieux was born 14 years after the battle, though. It makes his achievement of imagination more impressive, I suppose. Adolph Northern, whose brilliant Napoleon’s Retreat from Moscow is an iconic work, was also born well after the battle (13 years). His Waterloo work, Prussian Attack at Plancenoit is brutal, when you look at the details:

Adolph Northern, Prussian attack at Plancenoit, 1863, Kunsthalle, Hamburg
Adolph Northern, Prussian attack at Plancenoit, 1863, Kunsthalle, Hamburg

JMW Turner, on the other hand, was 40 when the battle took place, and already famous and successful. I still of think Turner as not only the greatest ever British painter – and there is plenty of competition – but also as being truly radical and visionary. His Sunrise with Sea Monsters is mind boggling for its time. The French impressionists were playing catch up with his unique genius. So when he visited the battlefield two years after the event he produced a beautiful glowing rainy sunscape – with corpses in the foreground.

JMW Turner, Field of Waterloo, 1817, Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge
JMW Turner, Field of Waterloo, 1817, Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

For two reflections on this, see here (with wine) and here. It’s not the best Turner – if there is such a thing, I’ve never seen a bad Turner – but it’s an perfect example of his one-off genius.

NB: just click on any of the pics to see the big version

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