Turner and the Poetics of Landscape

The National Galleries of Scotland has welcomed a number of works on paper and one painting by Joseph Mallord William Turner back from a touring exhibition in Japan. Turner and the Poetics of Landscape was shown at four venues across Japan from November 2017 to September 2018. 

From the newly refurbished Kitakyushu Municipal Museum of Art on the southern island of Kyushu to The Museum of Kyoto, The Seiji Togo Memorial Sompo Japan Nipponkoa Museum of Art in Tokyo, and finally the (also newly refurbished) Koriyama City Museum of Art in the north of the main island of Honshu, the exhibition travelled across some 1000 miles in Japan and was seen by over 200,000 people across the four venues, including His Majesty The Emperor and Empress in Tokyo.

This major touring exhibition was four years in the making, and was the second collaboration between Mainichi Newspapers and the National Galleries of Scotland.  It featured a strong group of Turner’s works from the NGS collection, complemented by outstanding loans from 26 other distinguished British public and private collections – some of which had never travelled internationally before. 

His Majesty The Emperor and Empress visiting the Turner exhibition at Sompo Museum, Tokyo. Image: Mainichi Newspapers
The press view in Kitakyushu. Image: Mainichi Newspapers.

The show aimed to bring together works from across Turner’s career, showing how his art and abilities developed through his lifetime and offering a glimpse of his travels and studies across the UK and Europe.  A number of key works by Turner from Japanese collections were included, some from the private collection of the Curator of the Koriyama City Museum of art – a key collaborator of the project – adding a very personal flavour to the exhibition.

It was wonderful to see these works alongside NGS favourites such as Rome from Monte Mario, made after Turner’s first visit to Rome, between August 1819 and February 1820, and more familiar views like Edinburgh from Calton Hill, made around 1819.  Turner produced three views of Edinburgh for Sir Walter Scott’s 'Provincial Antiquities and Picturesque Scenery of Scotland'. This one focuses on the construction of Regent Bridge and Waterloo Place, at the foot of Calton Hill.

Joseph Mallord William Turner, Rome from Monte Mario
Joseph Mallord William Turner, Edinburgh from Calton Hill

It was also a special delight to be asked to participate in the formal opening ceremony at the final venue, alongside the Deputy Major of Koriyama City and the Gallery Director in her formal kimono. Image: Mainichi Newspapers/Koriyama City Museum of Art

Being a keen traveller himself, perhaps Turner would have been thrilled that his works and legacy continue to reach as far across the world as Japan, almost 200 years after some of them were created, and I can’t help wondering how he would have interpreted the scenic landscape and unique topography of Japan.

Kyoto. Image: Sally-Ann Coxon
Miyajima. Image: Sally-Ann Coxon
By Sally-Ann Coxon, Collections Registrar (Loans and Acquisitions), 3 October 2018