Was Turner the first abstract artist?

( See audio player of this article at the bottom of the page )

Was Turner the first abstract artist, it seems to be a debated question. Some say absolutely and others are not so sure. Turner’s later works unquestionably evolved toward emphasis on color with subject matter a secondary concern. The against group say Turner may have not finished these works and he was continuing to work out his ideas. But, Turner signed and displayed some of these later works, such as The Fighting Temeraire and Storm at Sea. Another argument against is that Turner left no notes about his intent with the later work he did. But does that really change what the work is, a radical departure from the norms of the day. James Bolivar Manson, author of “Hours in the Tate ”, gave this opinion of Turner’s later work.

“Now pure color had become an intrinsic part of his perception and the essential means of his expression… infinite suggestion and convincing truth is obtained by color alone… form has almost completely disappeared.  It is a dream of color.”

Elegy Landscapes.

Seascape with Storm coming JMW Turner

Whether he named it or not, this is abstraction with nature and humanity as the spark. Another interesting observation from William Hazlett, “ Representations not properly of the objects of Nature as of the medium through which they are seen.”  Turner’s method and color became the object of the work, a new idea that became the foundation that future artists built upon.

Those future artists were the Impressionists and the Abstract Expressionists.  Turner was rarely given credit as inspiration for these artists, but again, does that lessen the argument?

The idea is there in his work. Turner was very specific when he titled his paintings in order to provide a framework for an image not readily recognized. The medium became the object to describe the poetry he saw.

This devotion to the medium as the prime focus was a shift in thinking for landscape painting at the time. He relentlessly experimented with color throughout his career and during that time  many new colors were being produced. Such as chrome orange 1809, chrome yellow 1816, cobalt blue 1807 and cadmium yellow 1820. Not to suggest Turner ran out and grabbed every new color as it became available, but he did experiment with many colors, suggesting color was a critical element of his expression.  For additional reading on Turner as an abstract artist follow this link to Art Daily: https://artdaily.cc/news/22596/Schirn-Kunsthalle-Presents-Beginnings-of-Abstract-Art—Turner—Hugo—Moreau#.YhoPIejMJPY

A Mountain Scene JMW Turner
ABC logo

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.