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J. M. W. Turner

J. M. W. Turner, Peace—Burial at Sea, 1842, oil on canvas, 34 1/4 x 34 1/8".

IN RECENT DECADES, the occasion of a major Turner exhibition has invariably elicited outpourings of admiring, even marveling commentary on the artist’s work, and the response to the current traveling retrospective—soon to open at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York—has thus far proved no exception.* But beyond the consensus that Turner must be ranked among the greats of post-Renaissance European art (regardless of what criteria such an estimation might be based on), no one seems to know quite what to do with his immense, intractable body of work, so seemingly incommensurable with the production of any other artist. The high visibility of the art and the mountains of research and writing on it notwithstanding, Turner and his pictures remain cordoned off in a strange critical and historiographical vacuum. It is difficult, if not impossible, to think of another artist

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