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Mark Fisher
Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
Follow me @markffisher and @writeabouttheat I am an Edinburgh-based freelance journalist and critic specialising in theatre and the arts. Publications I write for include the Guardian, Scotland on Sunday and the Scotsman. I am the author of The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide: how to make your show a success, published in February 2012 and How to Write About Theatre: A Manual for Critics, Students and Bloggers published in July 2015. From 2000-2003, I was the editor of The List magazine, Glasgow and Edinburgh's arts and events guide. See my website for more information and comprehensive Scottish theatre links.
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Friday, March 27, 2009

Turner and Italy

Published in the Guardian © Mark Fisher

Turner and Italy

National Gallery Complex, Edinburgh
4 out of 5

To walk through the half-dozen rooms of this major celebration of the work of JMW Turner is to take a journey from Romanticism to modernism. The artist's fascination with Italy began long before he first ventured there, and seemed only to intensify as his death approached in 1851. By structuring an exhibition around his obsession, this show demonstrates not only Turner's development as an artist, but the development of landscape painting itself.

The earliest work includes a homage to Titian, a hand-drawn guide to sites to look for on his first Italy trip, and a mountain in Wales painted as if it were part of the Alps. By the time he made it to the country - an arduous journey he undertook seven times in 30 years - the artist was as thoroughly versed in Italy's classical heritage as he was sensitive to the distinctive qualities of its climate and topography.

It's a combination that leads most majestically to his vision of Rome from the Vatican, a picture that dominates the largest room. In a single audacious image, he pays tribute to Raphael (he was painting exactly 300 years after the renaissance artist's death), while capturing the city's classical perspectives to magnetic effect and simulating a hazy blue sky of compelling radiance.

Nowhere does he do skies better than in the dreamlike visions of Venice he produced in his later years. These misty precursors of impressionism bring the display to a stunning conclusion. But not before reminding us that, in total, Turner spent only three weeks of his life in Venice (always in September) and that the innovations of this "radical old man" had their foundations in his love for the classical elegance of Rome.

© Mark Fisher, 2009

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