Simon Bartle, Visual Arts Correspondent

Turner: Northern Exposure At The Mercer Art Gallery, Harrogate

If you have never been to The Mercer Art Gallery, then now is the time to break your duck.

For those more familiar with Harrogate's jewel, The Mercer, then you need to schedule another visit to see this outstanding exhibition.

The exhibition retraces JMW Turner's northern tour of 1797, and includes rarely seen paintings. We could wax lyrical about Turner's visit being a formative part of Turner's development, but we won't because judging from his output he was already truly accomplished, and the evidence of his outstanding ability leaps out from every work.

"There's a sketch at every turn."
JMW Turner
There are two of Turner's ever present sketchbooks on show, and the two sketches revealed from those books are breathtaking. One only wishes that one could thumb through the sketchbooks, but of course that is not possible, but they give a sense of sublime landscapes, which later appear on Turner's canvases.

The Turner paintings are juxtaposed, and set alongside works of contemporary landscape artists Ed Kluz, Emerson Mayes, Debbie Loane, Katherine Holmes, and Anna Lilleengen. That is the other outstanding feature of the exhibition. You will be able to see for yourself, and judge our assertion, that these more recent interpretations of the landscapes of Northern England have every right to sit side by side with Turner's views.

Northern Exposure illustrates two parallel journeys, being the one Turner took, and the path taken by his modern day counterparts. Although two hundred years divide their respective outputs, they each share the same sublime landscapes, the vivid treatment of light, and they recreate the effect of our dramatic northern weather on the scenes that they paint. Their combined responses create a truly remarkable exhibition.

Katherine Holmes (b.1962) has in her painting Summer, Malham Cove, (2017) captured quintessential Yorkshire. The work of Emerson Myers an award-winning Yorkshire Painter and printmaker is included in the exhibition, and is not to be missed. He credits Turner as being a key influence on his work.

Any exhibition on northern landscape paintings would not be complete without including works by John Atkinson Grimshaw (1836-1893). You will not be disappointed because two of his works Silver Moonlight (1880), and A Yorkshire Home (1878) take pride of place in this wide ranging, and comprehensive exhibition.

The Mercer has done justice to Turner, and his celebrated contemporary landscape artists. It is so apposite that the exhibition is on show at The Mercer. The Gallery's name comes from Sidney Mercer who was a celebrated Yorkshire based water-colourist, whose sons gave £50,000 towards the new art gallery. Additional funding came from the hard work of the Friends of the Mercer Art Gallery, English Heritage and Harrogate Borough Council. The gallery is truly a credit to Harrogate.

The curators of this exhibition have performed miracles with limited space, but they deserve more room with which to employ their self-evident skills.

It is said that Turner rejected academic conventions, and he most certainly did that, and so much more. He was, and has been an inspiration for the landscape artists that came after him, and his work will continue to be a profound influence on generations to come.

Oh did we mention that Turner was aged 22 in 1797, when he toured Yorkshire? Well he was, and we leave the final words with the illustrious master:

"I did not paint... to be understood. I wished to show what such a scene was like." JMW Turner

The Mercer Art Gallery
31 Swan Road, Harrogate, North Yorkshire HG1 2SA

The Mercer Art Gallery is open Monday - Saturday 10.00 am – 4.00 pm and Sunday 12 noon - 4.00 pm.

For further information please visit:

Admission is free.