Paintings by two early masters of the watercolour are taking visitors on a journey – from the rugged Yorkshire Dales to the grandeur of Venice, pausing en route to enjoy the bucolic delights of crab fishing on Scarborough’s beach and to marvel at the gothic splendour of Rouen cathedral from the dockside.
Landscapes by J.M.W. Turner sit alongside coastal scenes by Richard Parkes Bonington, who died tragically young and is today less well known than he deserves.
Thanks to war, the two artists ended up painting in their youth at very different locations, as Turner was blocked from visiting Europe during the Napoleonic wars, so he ended up painting his British landscapes. Bonington was born nearly 30 years later and was able to move to France a couple of years after the travel ban was lifted, and is now considered an Anglo-French painter
It’s unknown if the two artists ever met, but they were certainly aware of each others work.
The exhibition isn’t comparing the two artists styles, so much as showing off the similarities and contrasts between their work. It’s almost as if the collection is by one artist moving around Europe, but you can now see the subtle differences between the two thanks to having them in the same room together.
Do look carefully at Turner’s painting of grouse shooting, as it’s thought one of the men in the painting is a self-portrait. Although most of Bonington’s watercolours are coastal, some of his Venice paintings are here, particularly highlighting his skill with light and shadows as cast by the buildings.
They’re rarely displayed at all as it happens, as watercolours are fragile works of art to have on display under the lights.
The exhibition, Turner and Bonington: Watercolours is at the Wallace Collection in central London until 21st April 2024 and is free to visit. The exhibition is in a room next to the gift shop on the left as you enter the building.