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JMW Turner: Romantic Painter of the Industrial Revolution cover J.M.W. Turner: Romantic Painter of the Industrial Revolution

by William S. Rodner

Published by University of California Press

Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel

The Industrial Revolution was one of the great transformations in human history, as well as one of the great upheavals. Throughout most of time, life had been tied closely to the inexorable rhythms of nature, of human and animal muscle supplemented by wind and water power. The invention of the steam engine changed everything, releasing a tireless genie that could work far faster than the strongest horse.

To many of the artists of the time, the steam engine and the changes it wrought were anathema, a horror to be rejected. They looked to the past for inspiration, painting pictures of a bucolic past they idealized.

J.M.W. Turner was one of the few painters of his time to see steam power as a suitable subject for art. In particular, he drew and painted a large number of steamboats that were appearing on the waterways of England at the time. However, he also did many other industrial subjects, including locomotives, stationary steam engines and factories.

This book is a study of Turner's handling of those subjects, and how that reflected the developing awareness of how industrialization was changing society. It includes a large number of monochrome and color reproductions of Turner's works, from sketches and watercolors to several of his famous oil paintings that were publicly exhibited.

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Review posted April 17, 2001

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