Turner: More Than Just Art

About Our Project

Our project, from Grand Challenges at the University of Exeter in 2014, is based on J.M.W. Turner's painting of Exeter's quay and surroundings. We have split the painting up into three sections: the quay, Colleton Cresecent (the houses on the embankment in the centre of the painting), and the Cathedral (which can be seen to the right of  Colleton Crescent. Our aim was to collect information and ideas about how people, especially those in Exeter today, can relate to Turner's art, through creating a collective digital archive.

We were fortunate enough to speak with Professor Sam Smiles, an expert in Turner. Clips from his interview can be found at the bottom of the page.

Click on the images for more information.




J.M.W. Turner was a British painter, famous for his landscapes and watercolours. Turner travelled extensively throughout his career, often touring in the summer and working in his studio during the winter. In 1811 and 1813, Turner toured Devon and made sketches which he later integrated into his artwork, for example, his depiction of Exeter.


The Quay

Exeter’s historic quayside has been a centre for trade for many centuries, not only for Devon but for the whole country. Over time, the Quay’s character has evolved and its industrial background is now in the past, replaced by places for leisure and relaxation. Cellars, once used for storing wool, are now home to cafes and antique shops. Houses host museums and small businesses. Trading vessels no longer use the river, replaced by canoes and pedalos.  Although the role of Exeter’s quay has changed, the lively atmosphere caught in Turner’s painting is still there to this day. (Image Credit: Beth Baker)

Colleton Crescent

The Colleton Crescent collection of houses has been unconditionally loved and taken care of since its creation by Mathew Nosworthy on 3rd of September 1802. It has experienced a rich history since then, including a number of films, paintings and even the housing of a theatre. 

Exeter Cathedral

Exeter Cathedral, as seen in Turner’s image, was built in 1114 by William Warelwast, a nephew of William the Conqueror, replacing the previous Saxon church, in existence on this site since the 7th century. In particular, the Norman towers built at the time of Warelwast, which remain some of the most recognisable features of the cathedral, are visible in the engraving. (Image Credit: Thurstan Honey)


Professor Sam Smiles Interview


We have been very fortunate to be able to interview Prof. Sam Smiles during our project. He has a particular interest and knowledge of J.M.W. Turner. He is currently co-curating the exhibition 'Late Turner: Painting Set Free' at the Tate Britain.  He also has a book, British Artists: J.M.W. Turner (http://shop.tate.org.uk/british-art/ba-jmw-turner/invt/14472).