Mystic Seaport Museum presents J.M.W. Turner: Watercolors from Tate, a major exhibition organized in cooperation with Tate. The show is drawn from the renowned Turner Bequest of 1856, the vast legacy of art donated to Great Britain by J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851), which resides today at Tate. Mystic Seaport Museum is the only North American venue for the exhibition.
The exhibition spans the entirety of Turner’s long career and, by focusing on the artist’s watercolors, provides insight into the private visionary behind the public figure. The viewer will see Turner’s watercolor practice evolve from aide to memory to a way of thinking with his brush–“for his own pleasure,” to borrow a phrase from a contemporary admirer, the critic John Ruskin.
“Joseph Mallord William Turner is one of the great artists of the Western Canon,” notes Stephen C. White, president, Mystic Seaport Museum, the preeminent maritime museum in the United States. “In building our new exhibition center, the Thompson Building, which opened in 2016, we prepared for loans of this caliber. Now we are thrilled to be able to bring Turner’s watercolors here for visitors throughout the region and country.”
Tate rations display of Turner’s watercolors, given the fugitive quality of the medium. But Tate balances conservation considerations with the mission to serve new audiences. “We are exceptionally pleased to send this intimate and powerful selection of works to Mystic Seaport Museum – the result of an ambitious and rewarding collaboration between the two organizations,” says Dr. Maria Balshaw, CBE Director, Tate.
Watercolors from Tate brings together 92 watercolors, four oil paintings and one of the artist’s last sketchbooks. “Not one of these watercolors or the sketchbook would have survived had Turner had anything to do with it,” notes exhibition curator David Blayney Brown, Tate’s Manton Senior Curator of British Art 1790-1850. Before his death, Turner sought to cement his place in history by bequeathing the contents of his studio to the British nation. He envisioned that the finished oil pictures would hang in rotation in a Turner Gallery inside the National Gallery at Trafalgar Square. But that dream never came to pass and, in 1856, the Chancery Court overruled the artist’s wishes, saving the entire contents of the studio, including more than 30,000 watercolors and sketches stashed haphazardly in cupboards, crammed in drawers, and rolled between canvases.