Turner: the Great Pretender?

Many artistic philosophers would claim that art is both born from and leads to inspiration. But when does taking inspiration become the theft of originality?

The National Gallery is currently exhibiting Turner Inspired: In Light of the Claude. Turner, typically associated with the name Claude Lorrain, was a self-confessed Claude admirer. Evidence declares that it was he who inspired Turner’s use of light in his landscape work. Take a look at the uncanny similarities between Turner’s Keelmen Heaving in Coals by Moonlight (top) and Claude’s Seaport with the Embarkation of the Queen of Sheba (bottom):

The following is also indicative of Turner’s penchant for replication. His Dutch Boats in a Gale (top) was painted as a pendant of Willem van de Velde the Younger’s earlier Ships on a Stormy Sea (bottom):

It seems Turner certainly has a flair for ‘drawing inspiration’ from artists that went before him. Scores of other Turner pieces directly correlate to various other artists, such as his Venus Reclining, which is an impression of Titian’s Venus of Urbino simplified into light and blended colour, or his Pilate Washing His Hands, in which he shows Rembrandt’s chiaroscuro treated in terms of rich colour.

Turner was no doubt an artistic genius and great artists must formulate their ideas based on the work they appreciate, but is there a line between inspiration and a loss of individualism? Did Turner’s focus on the style of other artists prevent him establishing his own originality?

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