The film tracks the life and career of Joseph Turner with the acclaimed character actor Timothy Spall playing the artist. Critics have championed Spall’s performance and he has already received the Cannes best actor award for his portrayal of the fiercely talented and prolific artist. Spall actually spent two year learning to paint in order to come across on screen as convincing. The years spent training culminated in Spall painting full-size copies of Turner’s two classics ‘Snow Storm’ and ‘Going by the Lead’ from 1842. In the film Turner travels the land and seashore with his painting kit slung over one shoulder on his endless quest for the attaining the sublime in his work. The audience will find out much about the character of the man and his flawed genius.
His name lives on today with the annual Turner Prize, which is presented to a British artist under the age of 50. It is Britain’s most highly regard award in the arts and has a host of influential and controversial winners including Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin and Steve McQueen.
Turner was regarded as the artist who elevated landscape and seascape painting to a position of acclaim, inventing new techniques to make skies and clouds luminous and expressive. His enduring influence on art cannot be ignored, having influenced a host of well-known artists from Matisse to Mark Rothko. It was partly because of his love of Turner that Rothko donated his abstract expressionist Seagram Mural to the Tate Gallery in 1970. Rothko was famous for his massive canvasses containing blocks of subtly changing colours and was particularly influenced by Turner’s late work, which “pared back” painting until they were close to complete abstractions of light and mood.
Coinciding with the release of the film the Tate Britain is holding ‘Late Turner – Painting Set Free’ which is the first exhibition devoted to Turner’s work made been 1835 and his death in 1851. Interestingly ‘Mr. Turner’ examines the same period, towards the end of the artist’s career where he was largely criticised for his radically expressive and unconstrained style of painting. At the time many attributed this new direct in aesthetic as a result of Turner’s failing eyesight and dismissed the paintings as the work of a man losing his mind. In reality, although his eyesight was indeed suffering, Turner was continually innovating, experimenting and creating what would later become some of the most important paintings of his career. The legacy of the artist and his huge influence in the history of art can be viewed in these two separate celebrations of all things Turner.