University of Leicester
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Tragic Hope – Sentiment and Critique in the Art of J. M. W. Turner

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posted on 2015-03-12, 15:55 authored by Marion Martin
This is a study of historical meanings in J.M.W. Turner’s art. As a starting point, it examines the cultural backdrop and mission of theorists of the Royal Academy, specifically Joshua Reynolds, to improve society. This mission, I argue, owes much to a strand of thinking particularly current at the time, aligned with the recently formed utopian concept of the bourgeois public: sentimentalism. Turner’s art, this thesis proposes, pursued this utopian ideal throughout. While landscape art around 1800 tended to be interpreted in contexts which abstracted art from societal significance, Turner’s earliest composite works already guided their audiences’ understanding towards the moral effects of tragedy through their paratexts. Apart from these works, exhibited in 1798 and 1799, whose paratexts have been studied in the past mostly for their enhancement of aesthetic effects, this thesis studies three more groups of Turner’s works: a second body are composite works from around 1800, some with appended texts supposedly written by the artist himself, which bear references to an artist-persona and artistic mission and therefore help single out Turner’s artistic mission. Another body of works are selected from the period when Turner’s Fallacies of Hope were in use. They particularly promote a pacifistic, anti-heroic ideal. The fourth group is defined by its subject matter, Venice. This thesis proposes that all of the groups, but particularly the last two, use paratexts as means to mingle an educational mission with sharp criticisms of reigning aesthetic and ethical approaches



Potter, Matthew; Ekserdjian, David

Date of award


Author affiliation

Department of History of Art and Film

Awarding institution

University of Leicester

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

Qualification name

  • PhD


Due to copyright restrictions the plates and list of plates have been removed from the electronic version of this thesis. The unabridged version can be consulted, on request, at the University of Leicester’s David Wilson Library.



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