Turner’s triumph: Grimaldi Forum unveils ‘Turner’s Sublime Legacy’ summer exhibition

From misty English landscapes and the enchanting canals of Venice to the famous Blue Rigi, ‘Turner’s Sublime Legacy’ at the Grimaldi Forum Monaco paints a vivid portrait of J.M.W. Turner’s enduring influence on art and imagination.

Following the huge success of ‘Monet en Pleine Lumière’ in 2023, ‘Christian Louboutin: L’Exhibition[niste] – Chapter II’ in 2022 and ‘Alberto Giacometti: A Retrospective. Marvelous Reality’, the Grimaldi Forum has done it again with ‘Turner’s Sublime Legacy’, an exhibition showcasing the works of British artist J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851), with a focus on his influence on contemporary art and his exploration of nature’s grandeur. 

The traditional press preview, led by Curator Elizabeth Brooke, was held on Thursday 4th July, with a large contingent of local and international press guided through the expansive exhibition. 

Earlier, Neil McConnon, Director of International Partnerships at Tate, which holds the largest collection of Turner works, addressed the crowd of journalists.

“You can imagine my great delight when we were approached by the Grimaldi Forum Monaco to present the works from Turner, pushing the boundaries of what Tate has done before,” he said proudly. “We’ve embarked on a remarkable journey with the Forum; we’ve selection 40 iconic Turner paintings, but more so, we have juxtaposed that with works by contemporary artists who have been inspired by Turner and the sublime. We couldn’t have hoped for a better partner to stage this show.”

A journey into the universe of Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Grimaldi Forum’s expansive exhibition space, spanning over 2,000 square meters, provides ample room to create various scenes and ambiences. Information panels in each area explain the curation process and offer detailed descriptions of some of the most significant artworks.

“This exhibition shows the breadth of what he did. Turner painted and made art every day of his life, so it goes through all the different emotions and phases he would have felt every day of his life,” said Elizabeth Brooke. “You can feel that it is a body of work that amounts to a person as well; he has experienced and seen so much of Europe and the world, and travelled so much for someone of his time, and I think you feel that in the range that is in the exhibition.”

‘Moonlight, a Study at Millbank’. Photo by Monaco Life

It all begins with A Darkened Room, because when Turner invited guests into his home and gallery in London, he was said to have asked them to wait briefly in a darkened room before continuing into the gallery itself. This ceremony also mirrors Turner’s appreciation for spectacle, evident in the stories he narrated about himself and the dramatic sensibilities of the Romantic era in which he was active. 

Turner was preoccupied with light and its effects throughout his career, and here we see one of Turner’s most important pieces, ‘Moonlight, a Study at Millbank’, created around 1797. It is an early example of Turner’s fascination with atmospheric effects and his ability to capture the nuanced interplay of light and shadow. 

‘Totality’ by Katie Paterson. Photo by Monaco Life

Next, ‘Totality’ by Katie Paterson (born 1981) also focuses on the representation of light and darkness with her giant disco ball, on which photographs of almost all of the solar eclipses documented to date are printed – thousands of images that are projected into the room in a rotating motion for a truly mesmerising result. 

The dramatic British landscape is the focus of the next room. After all, it was Turner’s detailed depictions of places like the Lake District and the craggy coves of Cornwall that first established his reputation. This is juxtaposed with the works of land artist Richard Long (born 1945), and his process of immersing oneself in the environment. 

Richard Long’s monumental sculpture is exhibited alongside Turner’s painting. Photo by Monaco Life

The blue room that follows takes visitors ‘Into the Mountains’, highlighting Turner’s fascination with the dramatic scenery of the Alps following his tour of Europe in 1802. As well as the impressive Alpine scenery, Turner was fascinated by the unique light and atmospheric qualities of the mountains. 

Turner’s mastery of light and colour inspired the likes of Monet and the French impressionists, and his approach has influenced generations of international artists since, like Peter Doig (born 1959), whose series of 30 photographs, taken over 20 years, are also presented and document the tragedy of melting glaciers.

‘Sublime History’ at the Grimaldi Forum Monaco. Photo by Monaco Life

‘Historical Sublime’ is a spectacular display of Turner’s mastery of history paintings, in which he took classical scenes and applied pioneering painting techniques to appeal to a less idealised generation. 

‘Venice: Sublime City’ reveals Turner’s unique works that express all the beauty and melancholy of the Venetian experience, while the works of Howarde Hodgkin (1932-2017) show the fascination that the city continues to exert on visual artists. 

One of the most exciting pieces the is ‘Blue Rigi’, one of Turner’s most famous works.

“It is a water colour, which means that Tate were obliged to follow certain rest periods because of the light exposure,” explains Elizabeth Brooke. “You can only see the Blue Rigi for 16 months every two years.”

Each section of the exhibition evokes a different emotion in the viewer. Photo by Monaco Life

‘Storm at Sea’ features a collection of seascapes, which make up more than half of Turner’s oeuvre. This selection includes paintings of whaling ships, fishing boats, shipwrecks and naval battles. These artworks rank among his most powerful and evocative, vividly portraying the peril of the ocean and humanity’s helplessness against its relentless force.

The exhibition finishes with ‘Late Turner: Elemental Sublime’, his purely elemental depictions of light and atmosphere.

“His contemporaries considered these as unfinished,” explains Elizabeth Brooke as the tour winds up in a cathedral-like setting. “However, the sheer number of these paintings that remained in Tuner’s studio after his death suggest the artist was very satisfied with the finished result.”

An audio visual installation in the ‘Turner’s Sublime Legacy’ exhibition at the Grimaldi Forum. Photo by Monaco Life

Overall, ‘Turner’s Sublime Legacy’ provides an extraordinary journey into the world of this immensely influential artist, a passionate observer of nature’s grandeur. The collaboration with Tate has enabled Monaco to present an exhibition that allows visitors to experience Turner’s work from a fresh perspective, and the contemporary artists who have drawn inspiration from this iconic master.

Ticket information

‘Turner’s Sublime Legacy’ runs from 6th July to 1st September 2024. Admission is €14 for adults, free for children under 18, and discounted fees apply for groups, students, seniors and SNCF train ticket holders. 

Public and private guided tours are available, as well as digital audio guides for an additional €6. 

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Main photo of the final setting of the Turner exhibition, by Monaco Life