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The Turner and the Sublime exhibit features one of the artist’s works from the MNBAQ’s own European art collection. Scene in Derbyshire (1827), a gift from the estate of Maurice Duplessis in the late 1950s, represents Derwent Valley seen from the heights of Abraham, a site in Derbyshire, England, named to pay tribute to British General James Wolfe, who died on the Plains of Abraham during a pivotal battle in the Seven Years’ War. (Photo by Shirley Nadeau)

Adapted from a press release by Shirley Nadeau

Local Journalism Initiative reporter

Much to the delight of art lovers, the Turner and the Sublime exhibit, originally scheduled to open at the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec (MNBAQ) last October, is finally open. The delay, predictably, was caused by the pandemic.

The Canadian exclusive of the international exhibition officially opened on Feb. 10 and can be seen at the MNBAQ until May 2. To respect public health regulations, all visitors must first reserve their date and time slot on the museum website at

English painter, watercolourist and engraver William Turner (1775-1851) was one of the foremost artists of the 19th century. His works display innovative research and rank him as a master of the Romantic movement. His avant-garde stance continues to be striking today.

This major exhibition was organized in collaboration with the Tate (London) from the Turner bequest and affords art lovers a unique opportunity to see outstanding works that are rarely shown outside England. The display celebrates the work of a visionary who came to be called “the painter of light.”

The exhibition comprises several of the artist’s masterpieces, including Fishermen at Sea (1796), The Blue Rigi, Sunrise (1842) and Light and Colour (Goethe’s Theory) (1843), as well as a selection of exquisite gouache and watercolour works. This outstanding collection of 77 paintings and works on paper represents the greater part of Turner’s career, from the outset in the 1790s to its peak around 1840.

The collection highlights innovative set design centred on the contrast between light and darkness. The walls in the exhibit area are painted black and light is focused only on the paintings, making them seem to glow from within. Three immersive video installations round out the presentation.

The notion of the sublime was a core concept of late 18th-century aesthetics and art criticism in Germany and England, which spread across Europe in the 19th century. The sublime expressed itself in Turner’s work in dramatic landscapes depicting spectacular storms, tumultuous seascapes and grandiose natural spaces.

Throughout his life, Turner travelled constantly in England and Europe. He is regarded as a master watercolourist and developed an especially bold technique.

He produced some 300,000 works, from sketches to large oil paintings, during his lifetime. Taking into account that his first oil painting was exhibited in 1796 and he died in 1851, that works out to an average of 15 sketches and/or paintings a day during his 55-year career.

The first part of the exhibit is devoted to Turner’s early works. The second offers a fine series of mountain landscapes, whose majesty is particularly suited to rendering the notion of the sublime. Then comes a series of magnificent lakeside landscapes in Switzerland and Italy, including exceptional views of Venice, in which the water motif is used to develop a lyrical interpretation of nature. Lastly, the theme of machines, which the artist explores extensively, places Turner at the root of modernity and links his work to the first Industrial Revolution and the advent of environmental awareness.

These framed watercolours are from some of the many sketchbooks Turner filled with ideas for future large paintings. There are 77 items on display at the Turner and the Sublime exhibit. They are just the tip of the iceberg of some 300,000 of his works, which he bequeathed to the British nation in 1856. (Photo by Shirley Nadeau)

This article appears in the Feb. 17, 2021 edition of the Quebec Chronicle-Telegraph.

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