J.M.W. TURNER: Pictures of Nothing

We here allude to Turner in particular, the ablest landscape painter now living, whose pictures are, however, too much abstractions of aerial perspectives, and representations not so properly of the objects of nature as of the medium through which they are seen. They are a triumph of the knowledge of the artist and of the power of the pencil over the barrenness of the subject. They are pictures of the elements, air, earth, and water. The artist delights to go back to the first chaos of the world, or to that state of things when the waters were separated from the dry land, and light from darkness, but as yet no living thing, nor tree bearing fruit was seen on earth. All is “without form and void.” Someone said of his landscapes that they were pictures of nothing, and very like.

— William Hazlitt, “On Gusto” (1816)


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