Bob Madams, The Daily Telegraph, January 09, 2014
The first time I boarded a cruise ship I was 10 years old. It was the SS Canberra - long before she sailed to the Falklands - and the family was off on a two-week Mediterranean cruise. My parents were looking forward to a couple of weeks’ good food and relaxation; I, meanwhile, was fired up by tales of Raleigh and Drake. Horatio Hornblower was as real to me as Horatio Nelson.
For a nation that grew mighty thanks to its seafaring prowess it seems wholly appropriate that the greatest maritime painter who ever lived – Joseph Mallord William Turner – was an Englishman. Turner is the subject of a new exhibition at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, called simply Turner and The Sea. Encompassing oils, prints watercolours and sketches, it charts Turner’s progression from newly elected Royal Academician to one of our most celebrated artists (so dedicated was he to his craft that in order to capture the full ferocity of a storm at sea he once ordered the crew to lash him to the mast… or so the story goes).
From the cathedral-like stillness of Keelmen Heaving in Coals by Moonlight (1835) to the fury of Snow Storm – Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth (1842), it shows how Turner not only captured the sea in all its contrasting moods but also left a unique catalogue of a way of life long connected with it. And never more dramatically than in this monumental tribute to Lord Nelson, The Battle of Trafalgar (1824), which was commissioned by George IV. The Fighting Temeraire (1839) – under whose imperious gaze I’d grown up thanks to a framed print in our lounge – is the painting chosen to promote the exhibition.
Curiously, for our greatest ever maritime painter, this is the first time a show has been dedicated to exploring Turner’s lifelong fascination with the sea. It is an omission noted by Dr Kevin Fewster, director of Royal Museums Greenwich. “It has allowed us to put together an exhibition that will hopefully inspire both art lovers and lovers of the sea alike,” he says.
Each time I join a cruise I feel an instant connection with our nation’s seagoing past. Here is a selection of Turner-inspired cruise suggestions for 2014:
1. Artistic reflections is the theme of Crystal Cruises’ ( crystalcruises.co.uk ) Gladiators and Empire itinerary, which features an overnight in Venice (a city painted by Turner) and couples visits to renowned museums and galleries in Rome and Florence with art tuition on board.
2. Crystal also offers a Visions and Inspirations sailing from Barcelona to Rome on board Serenity, which includes visits to the Barcelona’s Picasso Museum and the Uffizi Gallery (above) in Florence.
3. Viking River Cruises ( vikingrivercruises.co.uk ) offers insight into the Impressionists on its Paris and the Heart of Normandy itinerary, which includes two days’ sightseeing in Paris, with excursions to the Louvre, the district of Montmartre and Monet’s home in Giverny.
4. Viking also organises a week in St Petersburg centred on the city’s artistic heritage, with a behind-the-scenes tour of the State Hermitage museum, famous for its collections of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art.
5. Paul Gauguin ran away to Tahiti, where passengers can discover the landscapes that inspired his art while travelling with Paul Gauguin Cruises ( pgccruises.com ). There are lectures about the artist’s life, and shore excursions visit Hiva Oa, where Gauguin is buried, and the eponymous Paul Gauguin Museum in Tahiti.
6. One of Turner’s more monumental works is entitled Dido Building Carthage (1815), although he never visited the ancient site in what is now Tunisia. MSC Cruises ( msccruises.co.uk ) includes excursions to the ruins from Tunis, which is a port of call on a number of its Mediterranean itineraries.
7. On home shores Martin Randall Travel ( martinrandall.com ) is celebrating the exhibition on its Turner and the Sea Tour, which paints a fascinating picture of Turner’s maritime Britain and is led by the distinguished maritime historian and archaeologist Dr Sam Willis.
8. One of the most popular paintings at the exhibition is Chain Pier, Brighton (1827) by Turner’s contemporary John Constable. Turner painted the same scene from the sea and his shimmering watercolour, Brighthelmston, Sussex (1824), is now the centrepiece of a special exhibition at the Royal Pavilion in Brighton. The view can be enjoyed from on board The Belle ( brightonseacruises.com ), which runs 45-minute pleasure cruises from Brighton Marina during the summer.
Turner and the Sea is showing at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, until April 21, 2014 ( rmg.co.uk ). Turner in Brighton is at the Royal Pavilion, Brighton, until March 2, 2014 ( brighton-hove-rpml.org.uk ).
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