In a new light.

Art ‘I didn‘t understand until now. Thanks very much.’ I was talking to one of the curators of the Art Gallery at Liverpool University and she'd just taken a group of us around the rooms talking about its history and the collection within. Towards the end of the tour she'd explained something with such clarity that it completely clarified a subject that's always been just slightly out of my grasp.

I've never really been a fan of Turner's paintings. I've visited galleries, passed by his works, watched documentaries and although I can appreciate his technical abilities I simply can't come to terms with why these landscapes in particular should be the source of so much worship in comparison to other works. I will admit to a prejudice though -- I'm not a fan of landscapes in general, much preferring portraits, being able to look a subject in the eye.

The University Art Gallery has five works by him, a canvas and four watercolours. The oil is out on loan but the others are currently on display together as part of an exhibition expressing the highlights of the collection before it moves from its current base of thirty years in Abercromby Square to the Victoria Building at the top of Brownlow Hill, a much larger space that will give the pieces room to breath.

As we stood before these four paintings from across the artist's life and career, the curator explained that the reason that Turner is special is because he painted landscapes. She said that before Turner and even whilst he was working, there was a hierarchy, that portraits and religious subjects where more sought after by the great and good and rich because there was a prestige to them, capturing the image of someone or something important.

Landscapes simply didn't have that import, I'm speculating, because it was before the industrial revolution and the hills and rivers and country wasn't under the kind of rapid change that would come later and didn't need to be remembered as they were at a certain time. And since painters needed to earn a crust and generally painted what they were told to they didn't often paint landscapes.

But flying in the face of tradition and expectation, Turner did. He took his own path and would inspire all of the landscape painters that would come after him. He painted he wanted to. More than that he was one of, if not the first to use watercolour as an artistic medium in and of itself -- before then, someone would put pencil and wash to paper in preparation for a more larger painting. He was a pioneer. Which is just amazing.

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