Compton Verney erupts with volcanic visions from Andy Warhol, JMW Turner and friends

By Tara May Culpin | 26 July 2010
A picture of a colourful painting of a volcano erupting under a dark sky

(Above) JMW Turner, Eruption of the Souffrier. Oil on canvas. Image © University of Liverpool Art Gallery and Collections, UK. The Bridgeman Art Library

Exhibition: Turner to Warhol, Compton Verney, Warwickshire, until October 31 2010

Throughout history, the event of a volcanic eruption has sparked extensive mythology and creative output, with early reasoning for eruptions ranging from Venus being unfaithful to her blacksmith husband Vulcan, whose smithy is situated beneath Mt Etna, and the gods in the lava lakes of South America feeling quite famished of sacrificial young beauties.

A volcanic cataclysm has always been one of Earth's most impressive and destructive natural spectacles to fear, revere, and respect.

A picture of an oil painting of a molten vocano erupting

Joseph Wright, Vesuvius in Eruption. Gouache on paper (1774). Image © 2010 Derby Museums and Art Gallery

This new exhibition has brought together, for the first time, some of the best artistic outpourings inspired by volcanoes during the past 500 years, conveying the impact of living under the presence of volcanic activity, as well as their symbolism of creation and destruction.

They capture the raw power of tonnes of ash and pumice propelled into a cloud five kilometres high, or the deceptively calm lava flows of the shield volcanoes in Hawaii.

All the stages of a volcanic lifetime are covered in paintings by Warhol, Volaire and JMW Turner, as well as recent and living artists such as David Clarkson and Ilana Halperin.From the first ominous rumblings through to extinction, they take the form of paintings, photographs, prints, film, books, and diaries.

A picture of an abstract, multi-coloured painting of a volcano

Andy Warhol (1928-1987), Vesuvius Naples, Museo di Capodimonte. Image © 2010, Scala, Florence, courtesy the Ministero Beni e Att. Culturali

For something more geologically informative there is the acclaimed publication Campi Phlegraei (1776-9) by volcano obsessive Sir William Hamilton, lavishly illustrated with 54 hand-coloured plates by Pierre Fabris, whose works reveal the shocking beauty of volcanoes and revolutionised our way of seeing them.

While Vesuvius and Etna feature highly, they are richly complemented by important loans from around the world, featuring images from Japan, South America, the Caribbean and Michael Sandle's stunning series of drawings of the 1981 eruption of Mount St Helens, USA.

Open 11am – 5pm Tuesday – Sunday (and Bank Holiday Mondays). Admission £8/£2.

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