Turner – Light and Landscape

See Leslie on BBC4 24 January 2021

Art historian Leslie Primo examines six decades of BBC archive to explore what makes JMW Turner such a beloved name in British art. Almost everyone has good things to say about Turner – after all, he’s responsible for some of Britain’s greatest artistic treasures, like The Fighting Temeraire, and Rain, Steam and Speed. But exactly what makes him great is where opinions can differ.

Leslie discovers the TV art historians behind each theory. Was Turner great because he reinvented landscape painting, because he was a radical whose work marked the beginning of modern painting, or because he captured the extraordinary march of the industrial revolution? Through the archives, Leslie meets Fiona Bruce, Simon Schama, Andrew Graham-Dixon and Kenneth Clarke.

Leslie also finds that the disputed nature of Turner’s brilliance has made for some entertaining film-making, from a frock-coat- and powdered-wig-loaded reconstruction of his humble origins as the son of a barber in London’s Covent Garden, to modern art historian Tim Marlow lashing himself to a mast in the middle of a choppy ocean to recreate Turner’s inspiration for Fishermen at Sea.

Even if you think you know Turner, the programme reveals fascinating surprises about the complex man behind some of Britain’s most revered works of art.