Connecting the English Romantic tradition with minimalist photography in six steps

Published 9 September 2014

Sam Phillips investigates the six degrees of separation between J.M.W. Turner RA and Hilla Becher’s architectural photography.

  • 1. J.M.W. Turner RA

    Turner is the trump card in any game of six degrees of separation. Almost any artist can be connected to the painter, who is as easily seen to be a successor to Rubens and Claude as he is the progenitor of modern art. His late works, such as Rain, Steam, and Speed: The Great Western Railway (1844) are surveyed at Tate Britain (10 September – 25 January 2015), while Timothy Spall plays the lead in Mr. Turner (released 31 October 2014).

  • JMW Turner, Rain, Steam, and Speed - The Great Western Railway

    JMW Turner, Rain, Steam, and Speed - The Great Western Railway, 1844.

    Oil on canvas. 91 x 121.8 cm. © Copyright The National Gallery, London.

  • 2. Effie Gray

    The critic John Ruskin, Turner’s great supporter, has a cameo in Mr. Turner, but a central role in Effie Gray (released 3 October). The film dramatises the marriage of Ruskin (Greg Wise) and Gray (Dakota Fanning), which was annulled and followed by her marriage to Pre-Raphaelite painter John Everett Millais PRA (Tom Sturridge). Emma Thompson, who plays Lady Eastlake, wrote the screenplay.

  • Emma Thompson and Dakota Fanning in Effie Gray

    Emma Thompson and Dakota Fanning in Effie Gray

    Photo: David Levinthal

  • 3. William Morris

    The National Portrait Gallery examines the legacy of Pre-Raphaelite affiliate and Arts and Crafts pioneer William Morris (16 October – 11 January 2015). While he inspired countless designers (C.R. Ashbee’s brooch, for instance), his egalitarian philosophy and politics laid the ground for the public’s postwar participation in art and culture.

  • C.R. Ashbee's brooch, inspired by William Morris

    C.R. Ashbee's brooch, inspired by William Morris

    © V&A, London 2014

  • 4. Abram Games

    The Morris show features material from the famously feel-good Festival of Britain, which in 1951 drew huge numbers to the south bank of the Thames, promoting the country’s postwar recovery. Abram Games, a child of Jewish émigrés, was the festival’s graphic designer; London’s Jewish Museum celebrates his career (8 September – 4 January 2015).

  • Poster for the Festival of Britain, 1951

    Poster for the Festival of Britain, 1951

    © V&A, London 2014

  • 5. Mirrorcity

    The success of the Festival of Britain put the Southbank Centre on the map, which since 1968 has included the Hayward Gallery. Its autumn exhibition Mirrorcity (14 October – 4 January 2015) presents more than 20 London-based artists, including photographer Anne Hardy (Untitled IV (balloons), 2005), who stages suggestive interiors as subjects for her camera.

  • Anne Hardy, Untitled IV (balloons)

    Anne Hardy, Untitled IV (balloons), 2005.

    © Anne Hardy/Courtesy Maureen Paley, London.

  • 6. Architectural Photography

    If Hardy’s interiors are works of fiction, then Bernd and Hilla Becher’s exterior images are as objective as it gets: minimalist documents of industrial buildings across Europe (Goole, Great Britain, 1997). The Barbican’s show of architectural shots since 1930 (25 September – 11 January 2015) brings the Bechers together with a strong line-up that includes Gursky and Struth.

  • Bernd and Hilla Becher, Goole, Great Britain

    Bernd and Hilla Becher, Goole, Great Britain, 1997.

    Courtesy of Hilla Becher.


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