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High Road to Culture in Flanders and the Netherlands

Turner's Holland. Reflections after a Pioneering Exhibition in London
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Turner's Holland. Reflections after a Pioneering Exhibition in London

(Fred G.H. Bachrach) The Low Countries - 1995, № 3, pp. 198-207

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From July till October 1994 a special exhibition was on show at the Tate Gallery, London, entitled ‘Turner's Holland'. As such, it filled a gap in Turner studies. For J.M.W. Turner was not only Britain's greatest landscape and marine artist but also a most compulsive traveller in Europe. Accordingly, dozens of books and numerous exhibitions have been produced on Turner and Italy, France, Switzerland, Germany, or even Luxembourg. But never before one on Turner and Holland. In his prime the sight of a Dutch image had ‘made him a painter'. In mid-life Ostend had literally been for him the gateway to the land that had enabled him to ‘flesh out' a Dutch connection that his oldest guru at the Royal Academy had wanted to be a ‘school' for artistic expression in the way a Grammar School was for linguistic expression. Turner' s language had soon acquired many modes. But what it all adds up to is that, precisely because of his seeming abuse of great models and mistakes in historical detail, the limited number of pictures that make up his ‘Dutch connection', spread out as they are over his entire oeuvre, demonstrates all the better the importance for him of ‘Holland' . But then, when towards the end of his life he would still receive the odd visitor on his home-made roof-terrace in Chelsea, he would point inland saying ‘My English prospect' and down river whispering ‘My Dutch prospect'. Could anything be more suggestive – in retrospect?

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