A pair of paintings signifying one of the most famous feuds in British artistic history, between Turner and Constable, were shown together in 2010 at Tate Britain for the first time in almost 180 years.
But while Turner, the son of a barber, paid homage to his predecessors, it was “all out war” when it came to his contemporaries. Turner was continuously trying to prove his superiority.
While Constable publicly praised his rival, in private he criticised Turner’s work as being “just steam and light”.
Matters came to a head in 1832 when John Constable was to exhibit The Opening of Waterloo Bridge, a painting on which he had been working for almost 15 years, at the Royal Academy.
In the final days, he laboriously put his finishing touches to the busy scene in the gallery.
But Turner stole the show with a single daub of red paint.
Seeing that in comparison his serene seascape, Helvoetsluys, was a little lacking in colour, he entered the room, painted a small red buoy in the middle of his canvas -which had only taken him a few months to compose- and left without saying a word.
Constable, mortified by Turner’s deft touch, remarked: “He has been here and fired a gun.”
The two painters never got on: the previous year Constable had contrived to have one of Turner’s paintings moved from a prominent position and replaced with one of his own.
One of his most enduring influences was Claude Lorrain, the French 17th century landscape painter. Turner once burst into tears upon seeing one Claude, saying: “I shall never be able to paint anything like that.”
But however radically Turner reinvented such works in his own original style.
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