Three Horizons


Joseph Mallord William Turner has long been hailed as a revolutionary innovator who helped pave the way for modernism. Colour attained a hitherto unseen freedom in his pictures. He began exploring the possibilities of landscape painting early on, both by studying earlier masters of the genre and in direct engagement with the world around him. He experimented with the conventions of his craft, gradually pushing the boundaries of traditional representation. Soon his works loosened the bond that tied them to nature as it appears to the eye to such a degree that, in their reduction to colour, light, and atmosphere, they called the picture’s representational function into question. His art amazed contemporary beholders and sparked controversy. Posterity has celebrated his prodigious modernity.

Turner himself had a hand in weaving the enduring myth that surrounds him. Our exhibition investigates the question of how the artist trained and invented himself and honed his image. It examines the public strategies he pursued, for example, in exhibitions at the Royal Academy in London, but also in his experiments behind the scenes. Another focus of the project is on the response to Turner’s work from participants in contemporary debates over art as well as from later critics, to which he owes his renown as a progenitor of abstraction.

As part of the Lenbachhaus’s ongoing exploration of the history of abstraction, we have long wished to showcase Turner’s art in its full breadth. The cooperation with Tate Britain, London, which preserves his extensive estate, enables us to vividly illustrate Turner’s career and his pictorial innovations. We display around forty paintings and forty watercolours as well as sketches from all parts of his oeuvre.

The exhibition is organized by Lenbachhaus in cooperation with Tate, London