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Tuesday, 8 October, 2002, 11:33 GMT 12:33 UK
Tate's online Turner treat
The Decline of the Cathaginian Empire, exhibited 1817 (Credit: Tate, bequeathed by artist 1856)
Turner's work comes to life on the world wide web

There is an argument that Britain's finest painter is JMW Turner, the English artist whose seascapes many believe prefigured Impressionism in the early 19th Century.

The Tate Britain holds the world's most extensive collection of Turners, and up to now one of the frustrations was the inability of the public to access more than a fraction of its collection.

In recent years the Tate has created a new gallery just devoted to Turner and his work, and now it has gone one stage further in creating a website for the artist.

This is a great boon to anyone interested in Turner, from schools studying him to professionals who can now search the Tate's entire Turner catalogue online.

And it shows the internet at its most effective.

Peace - Burial at Sea, exhibited 1842 (credit: Tate, bequeathed by artist 1856)
Turner's later work shows a more abstract quality
On the one hand, it provides great depth, with a searchable database of all the Turners at the Tate.

But it also provides a user-friendly introduction for the beginner, with a tour around Turner's life and times, an introduction to his paintings, and an interactive tour of his own home gallery.

It also provides extensive teaching materials, both at primary and secondary levels, for schools who want to explore Turner further.

Pioneer of industrial revolution

Turner, like the other great British artist in the Tate Britain, William Blake, was a largely self-taught product of the early industrial revolution.

Son of a wigmaker and barber, and born (like Blake) in Covent Garden, he rose to become Professor of Perspective at the Royal Academy and was eventually buried in St Paul's Cathedral.

He was a product of romanticism as well, and his early work echoed the themes of Byron and Wordsworth in nature worship and the attempt to put sentiment and feeling into his works of art.

Turner's later works, however, showed a more abstract quality, with deep washes of the sea, clouds, storms and the smoke of ships intermingled.

As Turner's health declined, he worked more and more from his home in Margate overlooking the sea, cared for by his companion and housekeeper, Sophie Booth.

These works, ridiculed at the time, are now seen as his most profound contribution to the history of painting.

Website images

The one problem with the Tate website - and it is a continuing issue for many websites - is the size of the images it displays.

Many of the pictures are small, and in some cases they are too small to see either the detail or colour properly.

The Tate does not provide an enlargement facility - perhaps for the fear of people downloading the images and breaching the Tate's rights to the pictures.

But it does make it hard for the student or casual viewer to enjoy the full glory of these magnificent paintings.

Or perhaps that is the point - to get people into the Tate Britain gallery itself.

See also:

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