Turner and Color, or if you will, Colour




In 1819 Turner went to Rome and filled his sketch book with notes of what he saw. When he returned to England he painted this large picture, the Forum Romanum. Instead of arranging objects architecturally in a rectangle, he focused on an ellipse, which is the shape of our field of vision. The objects in the picture curve away from the viewer, when you focus on a single point. Interesting, but it is the color that gains our attention. The Romantic movement rediscovered the importance of color in painting. Color appeals to the senses, not to reason and and our sense of duty ('don't cross that line'); hence it was a bit of a threat to the establishment.


 Roman Forum
Joseph Mallord William Turner, Forum Romanum1457 x 2363 mm, Tate Museum


Over the centuries, the Forum had been allowed to decay. By the nineteenth century excavations had begun on the site and the broken fragments of Roman architecture slowly re-emerged into the light. Thus Turner was visiting during the period of rediscovery. The painting is a view looking towards the Capitoline Hill. On the left is the Arch of Titus, and on the right, the giant vaults of the Basilica of Constantine.


Late in his career, Turner painted many pictures that were not intended for the public eye. These paintings were his laboratory and led to the liberation of color in his work. These later, so called "unfinished works"  eventually brought him back in favor with the artist of the late 20th century. But the later works by Turner do not need the approval of the 20th century artist, rather, the other way around. Turner is more likely to stand the test of time better than the likes of Pollack or Rothko.



turner Turner: Der Lauerzer See mit dem Mythen, c. 1848. Watercolor and Indian ink; 33.7 x 54.5 cm. The Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
snow storm


The 20th century heir to Turner was Paul Klee, who was born 30 years after Turner's death.