How Does JMW Turner's Famous Painting The Falls Of Clyde Express Romanticism?


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JMW Turner, together with artists William Blake (also a poet) and John Constable, were a part of the Romantic Movement in visual art. It's worth noting that their work transcends 'labels' and resists easy categorization. Yet, looking at Turner's work in particular helps one to understand the mood of the time and more importantly, get a grasp on the multi-faceted and somewhat elusive concept that is Romanticism.

Turner's The Falls of Clyde (1844-46) is a vivid example of Romantic feeling expressed on canvas. It depicts the waterfalls near New Lanark, Scotland. In a corner of the painting, three Victorian tourists pause to reflect on the natural beauty around them.

The Falls are painted with broad sweeping brushstrokes that express power and movement. Turner's intense colours and chiaroscuro portray drama and passion. The painting conveys the Romantic notion of the sublime, or a transcendent experience of nature, when one is overwhelmed by its power. The effect is also achieved through the use of scale. The small figures in the lower left of the painting are virtually overpowered and dominated by the immense falls that surround them.

The painting employs an unusual vantage point; the viewer gazes down at the falls and the people from above, as if suspended in the mists. The result is somewhat disorienting. Turner's work marks a departure from the 18th century notion of the picturesque, in which paintings depicted scenes for the viewer to gaze upon in a removed way. The Falls of Clyde gives the impression that we are actually a part of the painting. This idea is in line with the Romantic preoccupation with personal experience, and emotional impact.

From these examples, it's clear that Turner's The Falls of Clyde involves the viewer. The effect is to draw us not only into the painting but into the Romantic consciousness.

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