The natural sublime

Painting of a valley with mountains to the side and rear

Fort Bard, Val d'Aosta c.1841-43, watercolour over some pencil, Lady Lever Art Gallery

The philosophical concept of the sublime put forward by Edmund Burke in the mid 1700s suggested that a sensation of delight might arise from the contemplation of a terrifying situation. The theory influenced some travellers who sought the sublime experience by visiting immense and powerful natural phenomena, such as waterfalls and volcanoes.

Painting of waterfalls and a river

The Falls of the Clyde c.1840-50, oil on canvas, Lady Lever Art Gallery

Turner developed a taste for the sublime through his exploration of some of Britain's wildest scenery. His 1801 tour of Scotland brought him to the Falls of the Clyde and his watercolour of 1802 frames the scene as a classical landscape. He returned to the subject in an oil painting of the 1840s - the dramatic composition combined with the effect of dazzling primary colours creates a sense of man overwhelmed by the elemental forces of nature.

Turner's tours through France, the Savoy region and Switzerland in 1802 and 1836 provided him with the opportunity to experience the terrible and awe-inspiring nature of alpine scenery. It was on the latter trip that he made the sketches for watercolours Brenva Glacier and Fort Bard, Val d'Aosta.

Painting of sailing ships in a rough sea with a rainbow

The Wreck Buoy c.1807 (reworked 1849), oil on canvas, Sudley House

The final image in the exhibition, The Wreck Buoy, represents the end of Turner's personal and artistic journey. Originally painted in 1807 and reworked in 1849, it encapsulates Turner's lifelong interests in the sea and the depiction of the sublime.