Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851 re division of landscapes


Research Point

Look at the work of Claude Lorrain and Turner. Write notes on how those artists divide their landscapes into foreground, middle ground and background.

Crossing the Brook exhibited 1815 Joseph Mallord William Turner

Crossing the Brook by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1815
Tate Gallery London

An epic landscape painting which clearly defines fore, middle and backgrounds. The great sense of space and depth is my first impression. The distance is achieved with proportional scale and a more ethereal painting technique that eliminates detail and relies on subtle tones and muted colours for its illusion.  Even the sky has depth due to the smaller clouds closer together with them increasing in size and space as they come nearer to the viewer.  The middle ground has more features but these are still handled delicately plus encompassing the sunlight falling on the buildings and rocky, tree covered hills.

The foreground has much more detail and more contrasting tones. Features and subjects appear nearer due to the increase in size and detail. The whole painting is brought together by the framing of the trees on the left, the diagonal of the tree-lined hill guiding the eye up and to the right tree group and then off into the distance. Turner has crafted this beautifully and leads the viewer, although, one can also just get lost in the sheer expanse of the composition as if seeing the view in real life.

Raby Castle by  Joseph Mallord William Turner 1818

Raby Castle by
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1818
Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore

Raby Castle commissioned by the 3rd Earl of Darlington.
Again, this has distinct separation of back, middle and foregrounds, although this time the subject, the castle itself, is positioned in the middle ground. All the usual techniques have been employed ie the distant hills are muted and give atmosphere and depth. Stronger contrasts and details of the flora and fauna give a sense of closeness to the viewer, with the hounds and riders of the hunt showing scale. Cleverly, Turner has used the sky to great effect, not only for a sense of drama and framing the left upper section with a strong cloud formation, but also by using shafts of sunlight to illuminate the painting’s subject, even though the castle itself is fairly minimal in detail. Bringing the whole image together again with the composition leading the eye backwards and forwards across the painting in a natural and rhythmic way. So very clever.

Research and photographs from
JMW Turner 1775-1
851 from the Discovering Art Series
Turner by KE Sullivan First published 1996 Brockhampton Press, reprinted 2004

Pictures courtesy of Visual Arts Library London, Bridgeman Art Library


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