The Power of the Sea at the RWA casts a line from Turner to Lanyon and beyond

By Richard Moss | 09 April 2014

The Power of the Sea is the theme for a powerful exhibition of painting and sculpture at the Royal West of England Academy in Bristol until July 6 2014

a blue painting of a seascape
Kurt Jackson, An Mor Kernewek (2003). Mixed media and collage on linen© Courtesy Kurt Jackson
The steeping influence of the briny on British artists is explored in the RWA’s latest exhibition, which casts a line from Constable and Turner though Lanyon and Piper to today's exponents of sea art.

This spectacular haul of canvasses and sculpture also explores our changing relationship with the ocean and the way this has been played out in the imaginations of artists across four centuries.

Turner was arguably our greatest painter of the sea - both in terms of narrative drama and what might be termed topographical studies - and he makes an appearance here, along with Constable, to throw down a marker for the subsequent generations of maritime artists.

Turner’s great maritime drama canvasses seemed to cast a spell over the Victorians and early Edwardians, who produced some of the greatest evocations of humans battling the wailing winds and crashing waves. 

Classics such as The Shipwreck (1859), by Francis Danby ARA, who conjured the ocean’s elemental power and John Miller Marhsall’s For Those in Peril on the Sea, which depicts a lifeboat heading into the churning chaos, are both full of the terror and allure of the storm.

But this show is not all about the drama of the shipwreck, and as the exhibition unfolds it evolves into something even more fascinating and ethereal.

There are the Modernists such as John Piper, Paul Nash and the artists of the St Ives School who brought with them the abstract forms and geometrics of the pier, harbour and sea wall. And of course Peter Lanyon, who in 1951 began his series of paintings of the Cornish coastline, establishing him as the master of layering and multiple perspectives of the seascape. 

The ghosts of both Lanyon and Turner seem to loom large in works by modern exponents of sea art. Susan Derges and Kurt Jackson use washes of colour here, bringing a modern yet somehow traditional approach to a centuries-old practice and Maggi Hambling's ongoing conversation with the ocean recalls Constable and the Victorian painter Henry Moore.

An important exhibition that reveals how the sea continues to offer artists boundless inspiration.

  • Open 10am-6pm (11am-5pm Sunday, closed Monday). Admission £5/£3.50 (free for under-16s). Follow the Academy on Twitter @RWABristol‎.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

Click below to launch an image gallery from the show


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Pics: Southampton City Art Gallery; wave Wolverhampton Art Gallery; Royal West of England Academy, Bristol; Kurt Jackson; Maggi Hambling; Douglas Atfield; wave Wolverhampton Art Gallery; Jethro Brice; Susan Derges; Rona Lee; Victoria and Albert Museum, London
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The perfect combination of artists come together to make this show an absolute delight.
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