Art That Made Us episode 6: The 19th century saw a decisive shift in power from the countryside to the cities. With the industrial revolution transforming the British Isles, a divide opened up between the urban and the rural, forcing artists to respond to the upheaval to lives and the landscape. Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson reflects on the inspiration of JMW Turner, arguably the first environmental artist, and we encounter Penry Williams’s attempt to capture the beauty of industry with paintings like Cyfarthfa Ironworks Interior at Night.
Some artists attempt to capture the poverty and squalor caused by the rapid urbanisation around them. Actress Maxine Peake reads from Elizabeth Gaskell’s campaigning novel North and South, architect Fiona Sinclair assesses Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson’s architecture for the people of Glasgow, and artist Jeremy Deller explores William Morris’s drive to bring nature back into Victorian homes through his hand-crafted wallpaper designs.
As art becomes appropriated by commerce in the late 19th century, some artists fight back with new individuality and flair. Writer and drag performer Amrou Al-Kadhi explores the meaning and inspiration of Oscar Wilde’s writing, and artist Shani Rhys James reflects on the quiet anger that simmers underneath Walter Sickert’s Camden Town Nudes, an unflinching vision of the grimy realities of working-class lives at the turn of the 20th century.
Art That Made Us episode 6
Joseph Mallord William Turner RA, known in his time as William Turner, was an English Romantic painter, printmaker and watercolourist. He is known for his expressive colourisations, imaginative landscapes and turbulent, often violent marine paintings. He left behind more than 550 oil paintings, 2,000 watercolours, and 30,000 works on paper. He was championed by the leading English art critic John Ruskin from 1840, and is today regarded as having elevated landscape painting to an eminence rivalling history painting.
Turner was born in Maiden Lane, Covent Garden, London, to a modest lower-middle-class family. He lived in London all his life, retaining his Cockney accent and assiduously avoiding the trappings of success and fame. A child prodigy, Turner studied at the Royal Academy of Arts from 1789, enrolling when he was 14, and exhibited his first work there at 15. During this period, he also served as an architectural draftsman. He earned a steady income from commissions and sales, which due to his troubled, contrary nature, were often begrudgingly accepted. He opened his own gallery in 1804 and became professor of perspective at the academy in 1807, where he lectured until 1828. He travelled to Europe from 1802, typically returning with voluminous sketchbooks.