Famed artist Turner gets his biggest U.S. show

Other highlights include Turner's largest work, the 8½-by-12-foot painting "The Battle of Trafalgar, 21 October 1805" (1823-1824), with its towering battleship. Commissioned by King George IV, the piece was almost immediately criticized for compressing events and sacrificing accuracy in depicting the British defeat of a combined French and Spanish fleet.

The exhibit also features several paintings that Turner had planned on being paired, though they haven't always been shown that way. Together, they create a "dialogue between past and present," especially on the theme of the rise and fall of civilizations, Warrell said.

One example is the depiction of 19th-century Newcastle, England, at the height of its commercial dominance in "Keelmen Heaving in Coals by Moonlight" (1835), a sharp contrast from "Venice: The Dogana (Customs Office) and San Giorgio Maggiore" (1834), showing Italy's maritime power in decline.

The final rooms of the exhibition show the stark change in Turner's work in his later years, as he shifted from more defined scenes and forms to expressive broad brushwork. His works included a focus on the atmosphere with a swirl of clouds, mist, water and air. Turner was dismissed by critics at the time for the "blurriness" of these paintings.

One room is devoted to the series of works "The Burning of the Houses of Parliament" (1834), which Turner used to explore qualities of light, color and darkness in both oil and watercolor.

Later generations saw that Turner's use of light and color in these last years helped inspire the Impressionists after his death.

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