The debate about who is Britain’s best ever painter has been raging since the time when they were both alive and in direct competition. John Constable and Joseph Mallord William Turner are generally accepted to be the two under the most serious consideration and their rivalry will be renewed in September after two centuries when two London galleries are hosting exhibitions of their work simultaneously.
Tate Britain opens its Turner Exhibition with the V & following with Constable shortly afterwards. Their rivalry almost began at birth; Constable was born in 1776, a year after Turner. They were completely different characters but made a profound impact on the art world at the time and not just within the boundaries of Britain.
The Royal Academy
Neither exhibition will be able to capture the atmosphere of the annual exhibition held at the Royal Academy early in the 19th century but they are both nevertheless events that all art lovers should try to attend. When Constable exhibited his painting of Waterloo Bridge at the Academy in 1832 it was hung alongside a Turner painting portraying Dutch ships. Constable’s work was deemed to be more impressive so Turner went away, returned and added more colour to the previously dull exhibit and opinions began to change. Even Constable said that Turner had been here and fired a gun such was the impact of the changes brought about by adding colour.
The two of course met several times but were never friends. Constable was a respectable, quite handsome married man. In some ways Turner was quite the opposite so it was never likely that they would have been friends even if they had not been direct rivals.
Some claim that Constable was primarily a technician; Turner was the magician who was able to bring that dull painting alive with a few brush strokes. The event will appear on screen this year with Timothy Spall playing Turner in a film of his life.
What is certain was that the two brought British art firmly on to the European stage albeit briefly as the Victorian era was not renowned for its quality. The years have not lessened the reputation of these fine artists; nor have they lessened the debate on their relative merits.
Whether you want to choose between the two or not if they inspire and impress you, you may want to try your hand at painting yourself. Companies like http://www.jacksonsart.com are able to supply everything you will need. If you set up a secure account you can order online and have everything delivered to your door.
If you live in the South East of England or can get to London to see the respective exhibitions you will not be disappointed. Who knows? They may spur you on to greater things yourself.
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