Marion Martin

Tragic Hope - Sentiment and Critique in the Art of JMW Turner


Dates: September 2009 - September 2013

Status: Full time

Supervisor: Dr Matthew Potter and Dr David B Brown (Tate Britain)

My thesis focuses on historical meanings in JMW Turner's art. As a starting point, it examines the cultural backdrop and mission of theorists of the Royal Academy, specifically Joshua Reynolds, to improve society. This mission, I argue, owes much to a strand of thinking particularly current at the time, aligned with the recently formed utopian concept of the bourgeois public: sentimentalism. Turner's art, my thesis proposes, pursued this utopian ideal throughout.

While landscape art around 1800 tended to be interpreted in contexts which abstracted art from societal significance, Turner's earliest composite works already guided their audiences' understanding towards the moral effects of tragedy through their paratexts. Apart from these early works, exhibited in 1798 and 1799, my thesis studies three more groups in Turner's œuvre: a second body are works exhibited around 1800, some with appended texts supposedly written by Turner himself, which bear particular references to an artist-persona and artistic mission. The third group is from the period when Turner's 'Fallacies of Hope' were in use. These paintings specifically promote a pacifistic, anti-heroic ideal. The last group of works are defined by their common subject matter, Venice. All of the groups, but particularly the last two, use paratexts as means to mingle the educational mission with sharp criticisms of reigning aesthetic and ethical approaches.


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