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Tate Britain Romantics Exhibition

Thursday 14 October 2010
Words Spindle

Tate Britain has devoted ten rooms to the daring and dazzling Romantics, featuring key painters from this period, including JMW Turner, William Blake and Samuel Palmer. These artists displayed the strongest aversion to conformity and tradition, disregarding rationalism of the eighteenth century.

One such picture which exemplifies this idea is JMW Turner’s magnificent oil painting, St Benedetto, Looking towards Fusina. Here, Turner boldly selects the brilliance of the sun as the chief protagonist of the painting, as opposed to Venice’s buildings, which are depicted as a series of indistinct and shadowy forms. It is works like these in the later part Turner’s career that sparked far from warm comments from contemporary critics, who derided Turner’s portrayal of light, and the vague shapes which featured in his paintings. Turner is the very figure of the Romantic painter; the underappreciated genius who nobly strives to create artistic pieces through his very own dictations rather than listening to society’s prescribed boundaries. The curators have enhanced the power of Turner’s work, by using bright, cream coloured walls and extra luminous lighting to enrich the intensity of Turner’s dramatic displays of radiating light.

Theodore Von Holst's The Fairy Lovers

William Blake and several of his contemporaries strongly believed in using the powers of the imagination and in incorporating otherworldly themes into their art. Theodore Von Holst’s The Fairy Lovers portrays two figures involved in the usual human activities, kissing, skipping and embracing one another, yet a sparkly, misty aura surrounds them. It is this strange collision of the knowable and the unknown which is incredibly striking and mesmerizing.

It is a fine touch that the exhibition includes the legacy of the Romantic period with the rooms Neo-Romantics and British Landscape: Photography after the Picturesque. Keith Arnatt’s Area if Outstanding Natural Beauty series is a fascinating photography collection. Arnatt has thoughtfully chosen specific landscapes which notable Romantic artists, such as, Turner have already captured with masterful paint strokes. However, Arnatt alerts his audience to the tension between the beautiful Romantic natural elements and the intrusiveness of urbanization in his black and white photographs. In one of his pieces, a view of the foliage is interrupted by a set of unevenly scrawled, homemade car park and tea shop signs.

Tate Britain houses an impressive display of artistic work, from paintings of astonishing, gigantic mountains to famous ill-fated Shakespearean characters, Romeo and Juliet, to a thirsty satyr, and to monumental mythological figures, such as, Paris and Helen. There is much to be amused and engrossed by in this busy celebration of the Romantics’ staggering talent.

Kimberley Chen