Cover image for Turner's classical landscapes : myth and meaning
Turner's classical landscapes : myth and meaning
Nicholson, Kathleen Dukeley.
Publication Information:
Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, [1990]

Physical Description:
xv, 302 pages : illustrations ; 23x27 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
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ND497.T8 N5 1990 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Now famous for their immediate impact of color, light, and atmospheric effect, the landscapes of Romantic painter J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851) were at first the object of opposing critical claims: from one side the British artist was charged with painting "pictures of nothing and very like," from the other, with allowing too much "content" to eclipse his presentation of nature. Taking this paradox as its starting point, Kathleen Nicholson's richly illustrated book proposes a thorough revision of how we understand the enigmatic artist who revolutionized landscape painting. Advancing the growing interest in Turner's handling of content, without ignoring questions of style, Nicholson shows how Turner used the themes of antiquity to explore the ways natural imagery can embody meaning, and how he came to view interpretation itself as a primary subject.

Nicholson maintains that by seeking themes in ancient myth, culture, and history, Turner was able to reinvest nature with new values and concepts, thereby accomplishing a genuinely modern revision of classical landscape in an early nineteenth-century idiom. His inquiry into the nature of meaning, she argues, led him to articulate a narrative that engaged the viewer in "reading" or interpreting both symbolic and purely visual imagery. Among the first to analyze systematically the themes treated in Turner's early sketchbooks, Nicholson traces the artist's understanding of a given legend, ancient author, or formal source as it developed over time, providing rare insight into the extent and character of his manipulation of subject matter.

Reviews 2

Library Journal Review

J.M.W. Turner's groundbreaking use of color and atmospheric effect generally receives the most attention from modern viewers and scholars, yet he was deeply affected by the grand traditions of historical landscape painting as exemplified by Claude Lorrain and Nicolas Poussin. Nicholson (art history, Univ. of Oregon) examines Turner's depictions of classical subjects from works by Homer, Apollonius Rhodius, and Ovid, delving into the painter's use--and misuse--of various artistic and literary sources. While many books have been written about Turner's prodigious oeuvre , this monograph is a skillful, scholarly investigation into an important aspect of his imagery. Highly recommended for academic and specialized art library collections.-- Paula A. Baxter, NYPL (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

J.M.W. Turner, like many of his Romantic contemporaries, possessed a lifelong admiration for the classical world. According to Nicholson's well-argued text, Turner's classicism embodied a highly individualistic approach to the legacy of Greece and Rome, one that gave primacy to the claims of landscape painting in communicating timeless truths. Nicholson, the author of a number of articles on Turner's classicism, presents provocative readings of key paintings based on detailed analyses of Turner's visual images and his often enigmatic titles as well as of his unpublished poetry. She is especially good at exploiting evidence from the artist's sketchbooks. Turner's work, however, is open to a number of interpretations (see Eric Shanes's recent Turner's Human Landscapes, CH, May'90), so Nicholson's book is not the last word on this interesting subject although it is an important addition to the literature. There are 176 satisfactory illustrations (8 in color). Recommended primarily for research libraries. -W. S. Rodner, Tidewater Community College