Documentary exploring the influence of the Industrial Revolution on the life and work of artist JMW Turner. Includes interviews with historian Simon Schama and artist Tracey Emin.
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If Joseph Mallord William Turner is famous for just one thing,
When I was a student and...
growing up in Margate, you were aware of Turner,
there was blue plaques and everything.
And you were told about the fact
there was this famous Victorian artist
that came to Margate because of the beautiful sunsets.
Turner stands above every other British landscape painter.
His name conjures up images of dramatic skies,
daunting crags and wild seas.
But there's another side to Turner.
Machines, technology, industry.
The opposite of nature.
Turner was much more than a painter of lyrical landscapes.
He embraced the wonders of science and progress.
In the years between his birth in 1775 and his death in 1851,
Britain experienced the most tumultuous upheaval in its history,
the Industrial Revolution.
Essentially, Turner was born in the age of sail,
and he died in the age of steam.
A new was age was being created, fuelled by science and invention.
Science has bestowed on man
powers which could almost be called creative.
The chemist Humphry Davy discovered new elements.
Michael Faraday harnessed the power of electricity.
The connection being now made, the copper wire immediately begins
to revolve around the pole of magnet.
Charles Babbage unveiled plans for the world's first computer.
A machine capable of computing any table with the aid of differences.
It was about finding out about the stuff of life.
That feeds into technological change.
You know, new engines, new techniques,
canals, tunnels, steamships, factories develop.
It's an enormous span
where science and technology and industry all go together.
Turner was at the heart of these momentous events.
He painted the Industrial Revolution as it unfolded,
and in the process created a whole new kind of art.
He wanted to sort of instinctively see
if belching smoke and a cantering train
would generate that kind of beauty.
He is telling his audience that it's here,
and my goodness, it's rushing up at you.
A new world was being forged,
and Turner, more than any other painter,
captured what it felt like to be there.
Gas lamps light up Pall Mall for the first time.
Britain is in the middle of a scientific revolution.
The phenomena of combustion,
the solution of difference substances in water,
the agencies of fire!
At the Royal Institution, Humphry Davy is the star of the show.
The production... of rain, hail and snow!
Humphry Davy is extraordinary.
He had huge crowds.
In fact, Albemarle Street became the first one-way street in London
because the traffic was so dense when people went to his lectures.
For the first time,
we see potassium kind of wonderfully flaring through the crust,
or sodium bursting into flames on water.
Barium, calcium, strontium all new elements.
So the people that come along don't just come for the show.
They come to go away thinking they are at the forefront of knowledge.
This is the world in which Turner finds himself
as a young painter at the beginning of the 19th century.
by the visual manifestation of scientific...discovery.
These ideas were bubbling up around him.
People met, they talked with the same aim in view,
which was understanding and discovering what goes on around us.
These ideas began to fire him up.
The Fighting Temeraire.
The nation's favourite painting.
Turner painted it towards the end of his life when he was 64,
and it captures on canvas the extraordinary journey
the world had taken over the course of his lifetime.
So the painting is of the Temeraire
being towed from Sheerness to Rotherhithe.
It's on its last ever voyage.
It's this great leviathan of the age of sail
being towed up the Thames into the heart of London by a steam tug.
The moon is rising on one side of the ship,
and on the far side of the steamer,
we have the sun in a big explosion of fiery red.
For the Victorian public who first saw this painting,
the Temeraire was a ship that had symbolised
the best and worst of Nelson's navy.
She'd been one the bravest battleships in the British fleet
with a story that began in 1802, not in glory but in disgrace.
A lot of the English sailors aboard her,
they'd been fighting basically for nine years,
and they just wanted to go home, and they weren't allowed to.
They thought it was their right when, in fact, it wasn't.
The mutineers were flogged,
and the leaders of the mutiny, they were all hanged.
From infamous beginnings,
the Temeraire went on to become a national treasure because of this,
The British attacked in two columns.
The Temeraire sailed just behind Nelson.
Nelson, his ship, the Victory, was immediately attacked.
It was at this moment that Nelson was shot.
The captain of the Temeraire,
he saw the Victory in trouble and piled straight in.
So it was unmistakably heroic, what they did,
putting themselves right in the heat of the action.
After the peace with France was declared,
ships like that came to the end of their useful life
until finally the Admiralty decided there was no further use for it
and it needed to be broken up.
So what you're looking at is a tug boat
owned by the ship-breaker Beatson,
pulling the Temeraire up river
towards its final destination at Rotherhithe.
What Turner's got there is this sort of sense of a ghost,
a veteran ghost of something grand and epic in British life.
So it's coming to its last moment,
but it's being pulled there by this tough little iron tug boat.
The Temeraire when she came from Sheerness up to Rotherhithe
was a very sad hulk.
She had no masts at all, she was literally falling apart,
but what Turner does
is he paints almost like she appeared in her glory days.
He's deliberately doing that
to make such a visible important contrast
between this steam tug that's pulling her along
and the great sailing warships
as they would have appeared in their pomp.
I see it also as a combination of noise and silence,
that you feel the thrashing of the wheels going round in the water,
and the sound of the engines, the smoke coming out of the funnel,
indicating all that kind of clanking industrial bustle
you associate with the new technology.
And behind it you just hear the ripple
of this other ship being towed silently to its doom.
Many people, when it was exhibited,
saw it as a sort of elegy for the passing of the age of sail
and its replacement by the new technology of steam.
This is the time when the top guns of Victorian polemic
are saying that we are damned
if we become prisoners of the machine age,
our Christianity is at peril, our national character is at peril,
we can no longer be moral to each other.
Turner didn't feel like that at all,
and the Victorian public didn't want to feel like that at all.
I don't think it is sad.
It seems to me to be a familial picture,
as if this young, tubby steam tug is the new generation,
which is guiding
some Miss Havisham-like ghost of the past!
He called the painting, "my old darling",
so he knew somehow this was the one that made people happy,
because it did actually make them feel good
about the fact they weren't just relying
and leaning on wonderful memories of faded glory.
The faded glory was being pulled on
by an equally tough, glorious, solid, black, energised future.
Steamships are, in Turner, a symbol of the modern world.
Turner really embraced the idea of steam.
I think that's incontrovertible.
While there are very many wrecked sailing ships in Turner,
there are no wrecked steamships.
Steamships are everywhere.
Turner's sketchbooks are really quite extraordinary.
He kept them all his life.
He often kept several of them in his pocket at the same time.
And this is a steamer, just off a harbour.
And quite typically,
Turner has added a couple of little colour notes for himself
just to remind himself of the effect,
so where the smoke is fading away,
he marks G for grey.
And of course, it's not a composition,
it's just a very quick record of something seen,
and these sketchbooks are full of little memoranda like that.
Turner was absolutely a chronicler of his times.
He was interested in everything that was going on around him,
and of course this was what made him
such a wonderful portrayer of the Britain of his day.
In the 1820s, international steam travel arrived,
and Turner was one of the first to record it.
In Dover, a steamer chugs merrily out to sea
while oarsmen puff and pant in the foreground.
Steamboats were soon a regular sight around the coast of Britain.
It must have been a great relief to get on a modern steamer,
instead of the old heaving hoys
that used to make everybody horrendously seasick
and took hours and hours to get there.
It would have been a very exciting thing.
But the world into which Turner was born
couldn't have been more different.
He came from another era 18th century Georgian England.
Turner was born in 1775, the same year as Jane Austen.
His father was a barber and wig-maker
who practised his trade in Covent Garden.
Just tuck you in, sir...
It's an area where, because of theatre,
the beginnings of opera and all that world,
society is coming, and good society and dodgy society.
Turner's dad was very ambitious for him.
He was very keen that Turner should make money.
He said that his father never praised him
for anything other than saving a ha'penny...
My own son, sir.
..which seems to left its mark on Turner's character,
because he became somewhat notoriously mean with money
throughout his life.
It was obvious from quite early on that Turner was very gifted.
The good thing about his father having a barber's business
was that lots of different sorts of people would come in there
to have their hair trimmed or their faces shaved,
and we know that some of the people who came in got to see Turner's work.
One person who is known to have frequented the barber's shop
was Thomas Stothard.
And Thomas Stothard was actually a member of the Royal Academy.
He was a painter.
And Turner's father once remarked
to Thomas Stothard, the Royal Academician...
My son is going to be a painter.
And he did, he joined the Royal Academy Schools at the age of 14.
Joshua Reynolds, the first president of the Royal Academy, was in charge,
and Turner absolutely revered Reynolds.
The great end to all art
is to make an impression on the imagination and the feelings.
The imitation of nature frequently does this.
Sometimes it fails and something else succeeds.
You know, he was a scholarship boy, got into the Royal Academy School.
He's sort of upwardly mobile through his wits,
and you could at that time be such a person.
And then he's on his way.
The academy in those days
wasn't what we think of an art school being now.
You weren't taught to paint at all, it was a drawing school,
and you were very much on your own in a way.
I wish you to be persuaded that success in your art
depends almost entirely on your own industry,
and that industry, I principally recommend,
is not of the industry of the hands
but of the mind.
He taught himself to paint in oils,
and at the age of 21, in 1796,
he exhibited his first oil painting at the Royal Academy,
and it was called Fishermen At Sea.
It was an absolutely virtuoso piece of painting.
It was almost as if he'd waited
till he'd completely mastered oil painting
and then demonstrated exactly what he could do.
You know, I mean, if one thinks of an artist like Constable,
he had to battle for years to get taken seriously
and was an incredibly slow-burner compared to Turner,
who came roaring onto the scene
and continued to occupy the centre ground for the rest of his life.
I think, by the time he painted the self-portrait,
he probably felt he really had arrived.
And it's a very flattering self-portrait.
I mean, Turner didn't like his own appearance.
He was quite short, quite rough in his manners,
strong Cockney accent, which he never got rid of,
never wanted to get rid of it.
He was very pushy, very self-assertive,
but...he had the talent to go with it.
I would chiefly recommend an implicit obedience
to the rules of art as established by the great masters.
Reynolds pointed Turner towards certain painters
who he regarded were models of great painting.
But the practice of the Frenchman Claude Lorrain is to be adopted...
He would recommend the 17th century French painters,
Claude in particular.
Claude was regarded as the absolute master of light in landscape.
Claude painted classical scenes
of gods and nymphs frolicking in nature.
Ironically, it would be Claude, a painter of a mythical past,
who would inspire Turner
to paint the industrial Britain of 19th century.
Turner certainly loved Claude's paintings.
There's a famous story of him as a young man
going to a collector's house
and seeing paintings by Claude and bursting into tears.
I shall never paint like that.
But of course as time went by, he did paint like that.
He started to think
about how he could apply the lessons of Claude's art
to something appropriate to his own age.
This is Turner's version of a Claude.
Young women bathe in pastoral setting.
It looks in every way like a Claude,
except this is not the mythical past.
It's Devon in 1815,
and the Industrial Revolution is about to transform the landscape.
If you look very, very carefully, you'll see an enormous water wheel.
And this is the wheel for Gunnislake Old Mine,
which was the biggest copper mine in the world at the time.
So he paints this picture
of the most Claudian scene he can find in England
as though he were a modern Claude,
but, unlike Claude, he includes in the middle of it
a scene of modern industries.
Ten years later,
and Turner's hint of an industrial Britain
becomes an onslaught.
A Claudian seaport
transformed into the fires and furnaces
of modern Britain.
It's the most resolutely industrial scene
of coal being loaded onboard a ship
to be taken from the Northumbrian coalfields to the rest of Britain.
This is a moonlight scene,
but this is modern industry on the Tyne.
Industry never stops.
It's a 24-hour productive effort, and this is about industrial might.
These are the reasons that the England that Turner lives in
has become that very place.
It's because industry is a transforming factor in the world,
and his picture is a response to that.
I think Turner was very excited by this kind of progress
and also its potential for him as an artist to make pictures.
Keelmen is a modern British equivalent
of a classical Claude seaport.
It's a tradition bought up-to-date.
Claude's seaport paintings were very distinctive,
because you were invariably looking to the source of light,
which was the sun,
and you had parallel lines going off towards a vanishing point,
and that was the way they were structured.
And the structure that he uses for this very, very modern subject
is essentially a Claudian structure.
If you wanted to renovate the Claudian tradition,
you're saying effectively that Claude understood something about landscape,
this is how to compose, how to deal with light.
But the Britain of the middle of the 19th century
is no longer peopled with nymphs and gods.
It's peopled with industry and the people who work in it.
But this momentous scene could never have existed
without one pursuit that had dominated the age
Somerset House in London
was home not just to the Royal Academy for artists
but also the Royal Society for scientists.
In the early 1800s, there was no great divide
between art and science like there is today.
They shared the same building.
The intellectual world was much smaller.
You'd meet at the same parties,
you'd discuss the same ideas, you'd go to the same salons.
There wasn't this separation of cultures
between the arts and sciences,
so that on one side of the wall there might be painters having a dinner,
and then two rooms down the corridor,
there might be a scientific lecture going on.
We have reason to look upon the sun
as a most magnificent opaque globe
possessed of an atmosphere in which luminous clouds, ever varying...
In April 1801, just as Turner was hanging his next big seascape,
on the other side of the wall at the Royal Society,
legendary astronomer William Herschel
was giving a lecture on the sun.
In order to obtain as intimate a knowledge of the sun,
it is obvious that the first step must be to become well acquainted
with all the phenomena that appear on its surface.
dimples and punctures.
Herschel's lecture on the sun was published immediately.
And it was at this point
that Turner also began to look at the sun in a new way.
Even here, in this most Claudian of landscapes,
is hidden evidence of the latest scientific thinking.
Young women dance around celebrating a new harvest.
It looks like another Claude except for one thing the sun.
There are many, many, many examples in Turner throughout his life
of new science triggering ideas.
In a sense, Herschel allows
the way Turner paints the sun
in the Macon.
Without Herschel's observations,
Turner might not have really... thought about it.
That was the trigger.
If you look closely at the picture,
it does seem to have incorporated ideas that were announced.
The way the paint is actually applied with a sort of ridge in it
seems to be taking Herschel's discovery
and manifesting it in paint.
Whereas Turner's great hero Claude
would paint the sun as a yellow disc hanging in the sky,
Turner paints slashes of...
little sharp lines.
Turner is noted throughout his career
for making the sun a very physical object,
of using impasto, which is thick paint that sticks up...
If you look at a canvas sideways,
it would stick up like a boss of a shield.
To bring the sun as a physical object
very much closer to the spectator's attention.
For the first time in painting, I think we can say,
he sees the sun as a real object,
but something you simply cannot look at without damaging your eyes.
We are being blinded by that sun.
"When I was a boy, I used to lie for hours on my back watching the skies
"and then go home and paint them.
"And there was a stall in Soho bazaar where they sold drawing materials,
"and they used to buy my skies.
"They gave me one shilling sixpence for the small ones
"and three shillings sixpence for the larger ones.
"There's many a young lady who's got my sky for her drawing."
Turner's sketchbook from 1804
contains a record of the stages of an eclipse.
But it's not just the heavens that were being analysed.
Turner was absorbing developments in the understanding of the weather.
In December 1802, a young Quaker called Luke Howard
gave a lecture to a small group of scientists in London.
It would become a landmark moment in the creation of modern meteorology.
My talk this evening is concerned with what may strike some
as an uncharacteristically impractical subject.
He decided to give his talk
on a subject which had preoccupied him for many years,
and he had no idea that this lecture to an amateur science club
was going to make him famous.
It is concerned with the modification of clouds.
If clouds were merely the result
of the condensation of vapour in the atmosphere,
then indeed might the study of them
be deemed a useless pursuit of shadows.
But the case is not so with clouds.
Howard made the simple but penetrating observation
that there are many shapes and varieties of clouds,
but only three basic forms, which he called...
Before that time, people thought
that each cloud was somehow unique and on its own,
and what Howard did
was give a basic grounding to the science of meteorology.
Turner would have known of Howard's cloud classification,
because everybody did,
and it was used in artists' manuals already by the 1810s and '20s.
Hereafter I shall estimate the force of the wind
according to the following scale.
One faint breeze or just not a calm.
Two light air...
The sun was being mapped, the clouds classified,
and in 1806 a ship's captain called Francis Beaufort measured the wind.
Seven gentle steady gale.
He came up with a fantastically simple idea.
Instead of simply having a list of wind strengths
from 1, light breeze, to 12, hurricane,
why not measure the effects that those winds have
on the sails of a ship?
That was a brilliant insight.
It used a visual sign for creating a new way of understanding weather.
And Beaufort's scale, it's been amended a little bit,
but essentially it's still with us.
Southwest five to seven,
becoming cyclonic gale eight or severe gale nine,
occasionally storm ten in Portland and Plymouth.
Well, you can't look at a painting by Turner
and say, "Well, that was a showery day in 1831."
But what you can look at Turner's paintings and see
is a fascination with the weather,
which is what everybody was feeling at that time.
The root of that feeling is what philosophers called the Sublime...
..an obsession with the powerful forces of nature.
It was the big idea for Turner
and other Romantic painters in the early 1800s.
The Sublime was a category of art,
which represented nature at its most...terrifying and intimidating.
Turner was fascinated with those aspects of nature
that showed how fragile human life was,
and this was a common Romantic theme.
The idea that we humans are in awe of what the natural world can do,
the volcanoes and hurricanes and floods and vast expanses,
all of that.
The category was defined in 1757 by the philosopher Edmund Burke,
and Edmund Burke set out to explain why it was that we should be
fascinated by things in pictures
that would terrify us if we encountered them in real life.
It's about being excited by high mountains,
by a sense of scale and mystery in the world around us,
and being taken to a point
where you are almost on the brink, perhaps, of being destroyed.
Certainly on the edge of being terrified.
The Sublime, the terrible, is also beautiful.
But Turner, unlike any other painter,
would take the idea of the Sublime
and re-cast it for the industrial age.
This is his Bell Rock Lighthouse.
The sea is wild and dangerous.
It's everything a picture of the Sublime should be,
except for one thing.
Man is not submitting to the power of nature.
He's challenging it with technology.
The lighthouse was built between 1807 and 1811
by the Scottish engineer Robert Stevenson,
who commissioned Turner to paint it.
This is Robert Stevenson's classic account
of building the Bell Rock lighthouse.
This is a very special one with its water stains and all,
because this is Robert Stevenson's own copy, and the chief item
in the book is the frontispiece,
and for this, he approached JMW Turner.
The Bell Rock's this great big lump here, that is the rock,
11 miles from Arbroath, and about the same distance from St Andrews.
In 1799, something like 70 ships were wrecked
in the vicinity of the Bellrock lighthouse.
Most of the boats at that time were wooden ships.
You can imagine the effect of that striking a rock.
Stevenson wanted to build a lighthouse
in an almost impossible situation.
It was only at low tide you could actually get onto the rock,
so the rock would totally disappear at high water.
What made Stevenson's lighthouse special was not just its location,
but also its revolutionary shape -
a curved base calculated precisely to withstand forces of the sea.
It's almost unbelievable that it was successful.
Everything about this job was innovative.
When Turner finished his watercolour,
he sent it to Stevenson to be engraved for the book.
If you look closely at the watercolour,
the waves that are breaking on the lighthouse come up and almost grip
it like a hand and there is a bit of wreckage in the foreground.
These are indices of just how dangerous this spot actually is.
But the ships in Turner's picture are not sinking.
The lighthouse is protecting them.
Turner understood precisely what these things stood for -
that, built properly, they were going to save hundreds,
and over years, thousands of lives.
Here you have something that is a demonstration of human ingenuity
in the face of an untamed sea.
This engineering marvel marks a turning point in Turner's art.
From now on, the Sublime would not just be about the power of nature,
it would also be about humanity's inventive ways of challenging it.
This painting by Turner looks, at first glance,
like a classic shipwreck.
But again, Turner has incorporated new technology in an age-old scene.
This painting depicts an invention by a man
called George William Manby, and it shows here this puff of air
which has fired a shot,
which is attached to a rope out to a shipwreck,
and they are going to pull that rope tight,
and they are going to try to ferry people to shore from the shipwreck.
It was painted in 1831, the year that Manby was elected
as a fellow of the Royal Society,
and Turner always had his eyes on the newspapers.
Manby was front page news, and that, I think,
is why Turner's painted it.
Turner met him though a patron, a Yarmouth patron called Dawson Turner,
who was no relation, but Turner obviously admired this man,
admired his work.
It's one of those painting in which human ingenuity
triumphs over the power of the sea.
Manby was a barrack master at Yarmouth,
and Yarmouth was renowned for being a very, very dangerous coast.
And in 1807 we know Mandy witnessed a ship, the Snipe,
going aground on this sandbar.
And he was horrified by it.
He could hear cries of these of the shipwrecked sailors.
And the next day he came down to the beach
and there were 144 corpses had been washed up.
No-one could do anything to save those people,
and Manby decided he was the man to solve this problem.
A rope, so as to communicate in such circumstances with a ship,
and a portable motor, the better to ensure a prompt
and effectual communication at a period when each successive instant
was big with the fate of an entire ship's company.
And this is all brilliant stuff that Turner loved.
Everyone was talking about Manby and his rather crazy invention.
The entire coast of Great Britain, I hope,
will be guarded with this additional belt of succour,
and I am not without the exhilarating hope
of living to that day when my project
shall be hailed as the seaman's best friend.
Lots of people were saved by his device,
though one wonders exactly what terrors people had to go though
between the ship and the shore
If you think about the Sublime, and in this case, you know,
raging winds, tempestuous seas,
here you have a device that can't overcome them,
but can give us a fighting chance among them.
Turner's embrace of new technology was not just there
in the subject of his paintings, it was in the very paint itself.
He discussed pigment recipes with the scientist Michael Faraday.
New fiery reds and chrome yellows - the colours of industry.
He was also interested in the geometric rules of art.
Since 1811, he'd been giving a series of lectures
at the Royal Academy on Perspective.
He gave the audience a great deal of pleasure
by providing beautiful diagrams showing perspective in action.
It has often been advanced that the study of perspective
is a drudgery and a toil,
while the observation of nature is pleasant and all must be abitted,
but we, erm, we are not always so happily placed
so as to be able to consult her unerring laws...
The problem for Turner was that
despite his pugnacious self-confidence,
when it came to performing in public, he was a disaster.
To these rules, the perspective lies an undivided claim.
The trouble was he wasn't a very good speaker.
The lectures really exposed his cockney accent.
It often happens that the prevent the completion of the,
the great concerns, and therefore I must waive saying...
And this was thought to be not quite the thing.
It was thought to reflect a bit badly on the Academy.
Impetu...impetuosity of genius travels on without a guide.
It too often finds itself in doubt about...
'There is an embarrassment in his manner
'approaching almost unintelligibly and a vulgarity of pronunciation
'astonishing in an artist of his rank and respectability.'
Next illustration, please.
'Mathematics he perpetually called "mithematics", and so on.'
Certainly he wouldn't have taken it very kindly
if his friends had given him any advice,
so, really, he just blundered on.
Sir Joshua left to future art a volume rich and...
His audience began to drift away,
but one person who remained there was Turner's father.
But it is the lot of all to follow, and mine is a humble one.
Turner's father was his closest ally.
he was his guide and his companion.
His mother, though, was a different story.
She was a family secret.
There is some evidence from relatively early in Turner's life
that his mother was accused of having "an ungovernable temper".
His mum is going crazy.
She's a really loose cannon at many times, so we're led to believe.
And Turner has to incarcerate her. He has to effectively section her.
Turner's mother was committed to Bedlam Hospital.
Whether she was clinically insane, we simply don't know.
What we do know, and this is, I think,
a stain on Turner's reputation, and his father's for that matter,
is that they could have elected
a more humane, private treatment for her, and they didn't.
The very year his mother was incarcerated, Turner left home
and moved to Harley Street, home to rich connoisseurs and patrons.
She died in 1804 in Bedlam.
This was not something, I think, that Turner was keen for people to know,
as he was moving up the ladder in his profession.
There's one very small and poignant profile drawing
of a woman in a mob cap in an early sketchbook.
She's off guard, she's musing, she's looking down.
I think that might well be her.
With the mother gone, Dad comes to live with Turner,
you know, he mixes his paints for him,
so it is a kind of "me and me old dad" kind of cockney thing.
Turner never married, and so his father, as time went on,
gave up the shop and became the person who looked after Turner.
As a personality, Turner was quite complex, very complex.
His relationship with women was not at all conventional.
He had a liaison with a widow of a musician called Sarah Danby
and she bore him two daughters.
But he doesn't seem to have been a particularly doting parent.
They were maintained at a separate residence.
As far as his character was concerned,
it really depended who you talked to.
When the French Romantic painter Delacroix met Turner in 1832,
he described him as "uncouth, like an English farmer", he said,
"with a hard, cold demeanour."
Constable, who admired Turner's art, didn't like him either.
But Turner was never going to fit in with his fellow Romantics,
either as a person or as an artist.
This is his picture of a factory in the West Midlands.
For the Romantics, factories were the dark side of progress,
but for Turner, they were a source of inspiration.
He coaxes the most exquisite, beautiful pictorial effect
out of the blast furnaces of industrial Dudley.
Those people who visited Dudley, especially literary commentators,
were often appalled by what they saw.
Dickens was horrified by the Black country
and the effects of industrialization.
But what Turner is representing
are not what Blake described as the Dark Satanic Mills.
It is an image which certainly doesn't criticise
the industrial revolution in any way.
When Turner paints industry, he does paint it in a unjudgemental way,
yes, and I don't think that kind of Romantic nostalgia
that we perhaps tend to get rather obsessed with nowadays
really occurred to Turner at all.
If you went into the valleys
and you went into the industrial cities, there it was,
there was industry, this was now, this was progress,
this was the modern world.
The modern world in 1842 looked like this.
A steamboat in a vortex of rain and snow.
And Turner is doing something extraordinary.
His painting has become loose, less figurative,
more atmospheric, less solid.
It's perhaps one of the most extreme pictures he ever showed.
You cannot tell where the sea ends and the air begins.
It has no sides, no middle, nothing to hold onto.
The only solid thing is this little steam boat.
But this isn't just a boat in a storm.
There are other forces at work in this painting.
There's an order in the chaos.
An order which has everything to do with the scientific discoveries
that were changing our understanding of nature.
It all begins with the scientist Michael Faraday.
In 1821, he demonstrated the theory of magnetic rotation,
with the world's first electric motor.
The connection being now made from the plates to the copper wire
and to the mercury below,
the copper wire immediately begins to revolve
around the pole of the magnet.
A decade later, Faraday showed that an electric current
could be generated though exposure to a magnetic field.
The relation that holds between the fixed magnetic pole,
the moving wire or metal,
and the direction of the current involved...
At the same time, Turner and Faraday's friend,
the mathematician Mary Somerville, was introducing the idea
of electro-magnetism to a wider public in a bestselling book.
"Dr Faraday observes that such is the facility with which electricity
"is evolved by the earth's magnetism,
"that scarcely any piece of metal can be moved in contact with others."
Turner knew Mary Somerville very well indeed.
They were good friends.
Mary Somerville talked many times of going to Turner's studio
and always being welcomed.
"Even a ship passing over the surface of the water
"in northern or southern latitudes
"ought to have electric currents running directly across
"the line of her motion.
"Curious electro-magnetic combinations probably exist
"which have never yet been noticed."
What is Turner doing in Snowstorm?
Is he describing just the kind of things
Somerville and Faraday were talking about?
Is this the visual manifestation
of the invisible magnetic forces in nature?
The key point for Snowstorm, in my view,
is the visual parallel that it creates between the sea
as a vast, uncontrollable force, and the invisible powers
of the earth's magnetism.
Underneath the chaos, there's a real regularity.
The waves have a sort of a hairy quality that gets very near
the effect of a putting iron filings in the magnetic field
around with a bar magnet and how they gather around the bar magnet.
I think there is a direct connection.
Magnetism was in the air.
Michael Faraday was working on it, Turner and Faraday had conversations,
their mutual friend Mary Somerville
was beginning to write about these and other scientific topics,
and making them much more publically accessible.
All these things go together, and suddenly Snowstorm appears.
It's the idea of a ship as the focus of all this massive energy.
This isn't a scientific diagram.
Turner is not trying to explain the earth's magnetism,
but he's trying to express what this power is.
We are looking at a visual metaphor.
Turner had found a new way of painting.
He'd created a visual language to express nature's hidden forces.
Whatever he's understood about magnetism and about science,
the key thing he's taken from it is an understanding of flux
and dynamism, and if you stand in front of the Snowstorm
and look at that tilted horizon, and look at that vortex,
you realise that you yourself have been caught up in that same rhythm.
By 1840, Turner, now in his 60s, was making regular trips to Margate,
a seaside town on the Kent coast.
He'd been visiting Margate since his childhood.
Now, it was a second home.
The thing about Margate is Margate is very gritty,
and has really strange light and amazing sunsets,
and it's got a lot of fecundity in the atmosphere,
there is something sexy about it.
And I think artists and people pick up on that.
In Margate, Turner settled in with a new mistress, Mrs Booth.
This may be a picture of her.
It's part of a stash of erotic drawings by Turner,
found after his death.
Of course, when he became close to Mrs Booth,
his landlady in Margate, he used to called himself Admiral Booth
and pretend to be a retired naval man.
There are stories late in life when he was getting more reclusive.
If he took a cab, he would get it to drop him off several streets away,
so that people wouldn't discover his real identity.
Turner loved to cultivate this air of mystery.
Few people were allowed to see him at work.
But one artist who did was Edward Rippingille,
who witnessed Turner putting the final touches
to one of his paintings.
"In one part of the mysterious proceedings, Turner,
"who worked almost entirely with his pallet knife,
"was observed to be rolling and spreading
"a lump of half transparent stuff over his picture."
What is that he's plastering his picture with?
"Presently the work was finished. Turner gathered his tools together
"and then, with his face still to the wall, went sliding off."
All it was for these witnesses was a master magician
doing something that they couldn't comprehend.
OK, you want to see how it's done, here's how it's done.
This is how it was done in 1844,
one of Turner's last great oil paintings.
A train hurtling out of the canvas into the future.
It's all there in this one extraordinary picture.
The scientific discoveries, the engineering breakthroughs,
the industrial upheavals come together
in Turner's vision of the new Britain.
It's about atmosphere - a train crossing a bridge
puffing out smoke and soot on a rather wet, misty day
in the Thames Valley.
It just the title. Rain, Steam And Speed.
Everything pouring, you know. It's kind of like, it's exciting.
It's hitting the same note as Temeraire.
The world of old motion drifting along in that little boat,
while da-da-dun, da-da-da-dun - this sort of coming along.
The fire box has almost eaten through
the casing of the engine chassis as it roars towards you.
This is the Great Western Railway.
This is Brunel's fantastic engineering achievement.
It's the jewel in the crown of the railway system.
The railway bridge over which the train is going
is Isambard Kingdom Brunel's.
So it is a homage to one of the defining figures
of Victorian Britain.
When this picture is painted, we are about a decade-and-a-half
into the history of the railways.
Remember, before the railways arrived,
nobody had gone faster than a horse could gallop,
and now we have these railways that, even by 1844,
when this picture is done, are going 30, 40 miles an hours,
and soon to go 50, 60 miles an hour. Unheard-of speeds.
It really is transformational.
The Great Western was even responsible for standardising time.
There was a time difference between, say, Exeter and London, of about
15 to 20 minutes, because it was set by rising of the sun.
And it was thanks to the Great Western
that we have Greenwich Mean Time.
If you look very closely,
there's a hare running for its life in front of the train.
The hare is, in Britain, anyway, the fastest natural animal.
So you've got this contrast between the modern,
industrial speedy machine and the natural speedy animal.
The train in Rain, Steam And Speed is not just a train rushing at us.
It's also a reminder of the modern world,
and how the modern world is changing the landscape,
changing society, changing individual lives.
The coming of the railways, the destruction of many, many homes
of ordinary people, especially building the stations in London
and all the cities, driving though old England.
The people that most resented it are, by now,
the ageing Romantics like Wordsworth and Ruskin,
who fear that these hoards would invade their beauteous landscapes,
but Turner's painting is a great cheer for Brunel, I think.
When the novelist and art critic William Thackeray
first saw Rain, Steam And Speed,
he knew he was looking at something completely new in painting.
"The rain in the astounding picture is composed of dabs of dirty putty
"slapped on to the canvas with a trowel.
"The sunshine scintillates out of very thick, smeary lumps
"of chrome yellow.
"The world has never seen anything like this picture."
He's using paint to make us feel what it was like to be there.
I mean, Thackerary commented on the fact that when you got close
to the picture, you really couldn't get away
from the thickness of the paint.
We shouldn't say that only Impressionism and the Modern movement
had these revelations.
I think what makes Turner extraordinary is that he came upon
these understandings in the 19th century.
Look at the rest of Victorian painting around this time,
including mates of his like Wilkie, who he loved.
I mean, it's pathetically rudimentary and laborious and literal.
The notion that you, as a fellow of the Royal Academy
would make this maelstrom of paint and deliver it as art.
You tell me who else is doing that. The answer is no-one.
It isn't simply nice, little curlicues of smoke
coming out of a funnel.
It's somebody who understands how steam power
has harnessed heat and turned it into motion.
Nobody else had found a way of painting that transformation.
He wanted to instinctively see if belching smoke
and a cantering train would generate that kind of beauty.
What he does is the industrial Sublime.
It is a kind of modernisation, perhaps, of the Sublime.
It's making it applicable to a modern age,
which is making scientific and technological advances
and is leaning to harness nature.
You know, the Sublime usually presupposes the intrusion
of something mechanical as the enemy.
It's not the enemy for Turner.
The most atmospheric of all of Turner's paintings,
where all the elements come together - earth, air, fire and water -
becomes a celebration of progress.
For Turner, industry becomes the Sublime.
It's as though those natural forces have been harnessed by mankind
for their own betterment.
The volcanoes and hurricanes that might traditionally be associated
with the Sublime now occur inside boilers and drive pistons.
No-one had thought like that, painted like that, imagined it like that.
And it's not going to be repeated, arguably,
until one gets in to the 1910s.
He was painting what was happening, the reality of that time,
because he had his finger on the pulse.
He managed to achieve something quite phenomenal,
and that's what makes Turner a great artist.
I think he's phenomenally important for the history of art
and the history of Britain.
This, then, is JMW Turner,
Britain's great Romantic landscape painter,
who delivered to us a visionary story of the Industrial Revolution.
Who painted nature, and at the same time
revealed the wonders of science and invention.
Who used paint to herald a new world.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd.
A film that looks at the genius of JMW Turner in a new light. There is more to Turner than his sublime landscapes - he also painted machines, science, technology and industry. Turner's life spans the Industrial Revolution, he witnessed it as it unfolded, and he painted it. In the process he created a whole new kind of art. The programme examines nine key Turner paintings and shows how we should rethink them in the light of the scientific and Industrial Revolution. Includes interviews with historian Simon Schama and artist Tracey Emin.