Exhibition Project, Turner and the Masters (2009-10), curated by Professor David Solkin
Submitting InstitutionCourtauld Institute of Art
Unit of AssessmentArt and Design: History, Practice and Theory
Summary Impact TypeCultural
Research Subject Area(s)
Studies In Creative Arts and Writing: Film, Television and Digital Media
Language, Communication and Culture: Cultural Studies
History and Archaeology: Historical Studies
Summary of the impact
Turner and the Masters, organised in collaboration with Tate
Britain, shown at Tate, the Grand Palais, Paris, and the Museo Nacional
del Prado, Madrid, in 2009-10, had extensive impact, as measured by
audience figures, catalogue sales, press coverage, online survey
participation, and attendance at public events and education programmes.
Exhibition visitors, schoolchildren on tours, readers and viewers of media
items gained insight into Turner's achievements; mechanisms of cultural
transmission and the European context of British art. Immediate impact on
curatorial and scholarly engagement with Turner shows in a `spin-off'
exhibition (Turner in the Light of Claude) at the National Gallery,
and a new book on Turner and history.
Turner and the Masters was the first exhibition ever devoted to
one of the central defining features of JMW Turner's practice: his
lifelong habit of assimilating and competing with a range of major artists
both past and present. This is a phenomenon that has long been recognised
by scholars, but it has never been fully explored, and a comprehensive
understanding has hitherto been precluded by the lack of opportunities to
present Turner's pictures side by side with `matching' works by other
masters whom he took as the objects of his emulation. From the outset a
main aim of the research was to identify and locate Turner's specific
models and his painted responses to them. The pictures had to be selected
with scrupulous care not only to ensure the exhibition's historical
accuracy, but also to enable that its underpinning research could be
communicated visually to a large general audience, by the asking
them to compare paired images, with minimal textual mediation.
Solkin's extensive, searching investigations into the art market (Painting
for Money, 1993) and exhibition culture (Art On The Line,
2001-2) laid the ground for his research on Turner and The Masters.
Research began in earnest in early 2007, when Solkin was in the last
months of a two-year Leverhulme Fellowship; he framed the overall concept
and commissioned an international team of scholars and curators to
investigate a range of aspects, with a view to informing the selection of
works and other elements crucial to the show, and the essay components of
the catalogue. A key member of the team was Philippa Simpson, who in 2006
was awarded a three-year doctoral fellowship at The Courtauld, with a
brief to explore the rise of an Old Master exhibition culture in London
from 1793-1815. Supervised by Solkin and sponsored by Tate, Simpson not
only filled important gaps in our knowledge (e.g. by identifying specific
old master pictures that Turner would have seen, and which were then
borrowed for the show) but also — by virtue of her working part-time at
Tate while carrying out her studies at The Courtauld — helped co-ordinate
the different strands of the project and the efforts of all of its key
players to channel our research to the exhibition's audiences.
During his sabbatical leave in autumn 2008, Solkin researched and
produced an introductory catalogue essay which for the first time sought
to explain the cultural and historical circumstances that enabled and
inspired Turner's distinctive mode of engaging with the works of other
painters. Both Solkin and Simpson benefited from the opportunity to
present their ideas to seminars at The Courtauld, while Solkin's efforts
were supported by the annual individual research budget allocated to all
permanent members of The Courtauld's teaching staff. The result of their
investigations, and those of other members of the team, was an exhibition
and a catalogue that have significantly advanced our understanding of
Turner and of British Romantic art.
References to the research
Output 1: David Solkin, Painting for Money: The Visual Arts
and the Public Sphere in Eighteenth-Century England (New
Haven & London, Yale University Press 1993)
Output 2: David Solkin, Guest Curator
Art on The Line: The Royal Academy Exhibitions at Somerset House
The Courtauld Institute Gallery, 2001-2002.
Output 3: David Solkin, editor
Art on The Line: The Royal Academy Exhibitions at Somerset House
catalogue (New Haven and London, Yale University Press, 2001)
Output 4: David Solkin, Guest Curator
Turner and the Masters
Exhibition held at Tate Britain (23 September 2009 - 31 January 2010),
(Grand Palais, Champs-Elysées) Paris (22 February - 24 May 2010), Museo
Prado, Madrid (22 June - 19 September 2010)
Output 5: David Solkin, editor
Turner and the Masters
Exhibition catalogue, 240pp. (French edition, Turner et ses Peintres;
Spanish edition, Turner
y los Maestros)
London 2009 (Paris & Madrid, 2010)
Contents of English edition:
• David Solkin: `Turner and the Masters: Gleaning to Excel'
• Philippa Simpson: `Facing up to the Past: The Old Masters and the
British School in Turner's London'
• Ian Warrell: ``Stolen Hints from Celebrated Pictures': Turner as
Copyist, Collector and Consumer of Old Master Paintings'
• Kathleen Nicholson: `Turner, Claude and the Essence of Landscape'
• Sarah Monks, `Turner Goes Dutch'
• Guillaume Faroult and David Solkin: ` `He said he held it very low':
Turner and Contemporary French Landscape Painting in 1802'
Catalogue (section introductions and entries):
• David Solkin: `Education and Emulation'
• Philippa Simpson and Martin Myrone: `The Academy and the Grand Style'
• David Solkin and Philippa Simpson: `Turner and the North'
• Ian Warrell: `Painters Painted: The Cult of the Artist'
• David Solkin: `Competing with Contemporaries'
• Ian Warrell: `Turner Paints Himself into History'
The catalogue of Turner and the Masters was shortlisted for the
William MB Berger Prize (for 2009) for excellence in British art history.
Details of the impact
The research carried out by David Solkin and his curatorial team (Simpson
and Warrell principally) directly informed the selection of specific works
for the Turner and the Masters exhibition and the nature of their
display. Solkin devised the concept and played the lead role throughout —
as guest curator of the show, as editor and co-author of the catalogue,
and as supervisor of Simpson's PhD — while Simpson did much of the
archival work (into early nineteenth-century British collections and
exhibitions), and Warrell lent his expertise as a Turner specialist of
many years' standing. This was a collaborative scholarly project,
combining the fruits of original and secondary research, which was given
concrete form through the public presentation of more than fifty pictures
by Turner shown in pairs or larger groupings alongside a similar number of
works by other masters whom he strove to rival, emulate, or on occasion
Following a methodology first developed by Solkin for his pioneering
exhibition Art on The Line: The Royal Academy Exhibitions at Somerset
House 1780-1836 (Courtauld Institute Gallery, 2001-2), Turner
and the Masters made most of its scholarly points visually: to
encourage visitors to draw their own conclusions, the Tate show reduced
the standard length of its wall texts (introductory panels and labels) to
an absolute minimum, whilst offering those who wished for more guidance
the option of renting an audio-guide featuring the voices of Solkin and
his co-curators: 41,302 viewers each paid £3 for this opportunity. Mid-way
through the run, the first edition of the catalogue sold out, prompting a
second printing; all 20,000 copies of both editions have now been sold.
But the dissemination of the research, via the exhibition itself and
online, was on a far larger scale: the show attracted more than 850,000
visitors to its three venues (221,146 in London; 455,322 in Paris; and
170,847 in Madrid). The economic effects of this success were
far-reaching, not just as a stimulus to tourism: in addition to the more
than £500,000 realised from catalogue sales, visitors to Tate Britain
spent £85,115 on exhibition-related merchandise. The average daily
attendance of 5,303 at the Grand Palais was the largest for any springtime
show in its history; during the same period, its auditorium welcomed
14,615 visitors to accompanying films, conferences, and lectures, while
3,685 schoolchildren attended on 173 organised tours. In the UK, Google
analytics reports indicate a total of 280,000 `views' of the Turner
and the Masters pages between September 2009 and January 2010, while
during the same period the videos produced to accompany the exhibition
were seen by more than 22,000 viewers on YouTube alone. Over 30,000 people
participated in an online survey, hosted on Tate Britain's website, in
which they were asked to score Turner's achievements against those of his
`rivals' — thus engaging the active engagement of the general public in
scholarly and critical debate to an exceptional degree.
In Britain the issues raised by the exhibition were further
debated and disseminated by an extensive and enthusiastic press coverage,
in the form of photographic features, illustrated reviews and extended
articles which appeared in the Times, Sunday Times, Independent, Daily
Telegraph, Sunday Telegraph, Guardian, Financial Times, Metro, Daily
Mirror, Express, Sunday Express, Time Out and elsewhere. Television
coverage included a feature on Newsnight Review (BBC1), on BBC
Wales, and a half-hour programme on Sky Arts, while there were radio
reports on The Today Programme, Front Row (both Radio 4), and The
Strand (BBC World Service). But the single largest audience
consisted of the 3.24 million who watched the final of University
Challenge on BBC2 on 4 April 2011, where a `starter for ten' and
three follow-up questions presented the contestants with pairs of works
from Turner and the Masters, and asked them to identify the
`masters' . This attested and contributed to the exhibition's success in
enhancing the understanding of a huge popular audience of: Turner's
achievements; the history of British art in its European context; how
cultural transmission works; and how the culture of the past can be given
new life through the actions of any modern artist. Arguably, too, the many
hundreds of thousands who experienced Turner and the Masters
either directly or indirectly came away with a stronger sense of
connection to, and therefore a greater enjoyment of, the art that they
encountered. Turner and the Masters has also had an impact on the
research on and teaching of British art history. On 11-12 January 2010 the
Tate hosted a workshop for an invited international group of twenty-four
art-historians, curators, and doctoral students, who participated in a
series of discussions in front of the pictures themselves, with a view to
articulating the lessons to be learned from the unique opportunities
offered by the exhibition. The event not only provided a framework for
networks to be built in future, but also was significant in moving
high-level art-historical debate out of the classroom into the exhibition
space, helping to ensure the longer-term impact of the project in the
field of Turner studies and nineteenth-century art history. Early
indications of that impact can be found in the recent National Gallery
exhibition, Turner Inspired: In the Light of Claude (14 March-
5June 2012), curated by Ian Warrell (one of Solkin's team), which expanded
on one of the key relationships presented in Turner and the Masters.
The catalogue and the January workshop also fed directly into an important
book-length study, JMW Turner and the Subject of History (Ashgate,
2012) by one of the workshop participants, Dr Leo Costello.
Sources to corroborate the impact
Persons who can be contacted to corroborate the impact of Turner and
the Masters at Tate Britain:
- Keeper of 18th- and 19th-century British art,
- Former Director, Tate Britain
Person who can be contacted to corroborate the impact of Turner et
ses Peintres at Grand Palais, Paris:
- Press Officer, Réunion des musées nationaux (a copy of a statement can
be provided upon request)
Person who can be contacted to corroborate the impact of Turner y los
Maestros at Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid:
- Deputy Director, Museo Nacional del Prado
A dossier of press reviews can be provided by David Solkin upon request.
But see also:
- Gustav Percevall, `Reflections on `Turner and the Masters', The
British Art Journal, XI, no.1 (Spring 2010), 108-9
Further material can be found here: