When it comes to gathering together pieces of art such as drawings, paintings, sketches, sculptures, etc., into a collection, the place depicted in the artwork, the site where the art was created or the epoch when it was created serves as an indicator. In that way, a collection of artworks, an archive of artworks, representing for instance a certain place can be created. In that sense, the archive is “the whole”, while a piece of art is just a part of it. However, it seems rather strange that pieces of art, which are a form of individual expression of the artist and which impact different personalities in a different way, can, when gathered in a collection, form what is usually perceived as dusty, static and old, namely an archive. What is more, it seems even more bizarre that the base for creating an archive can be something so linear and narrow such as a geographic region or period in time. By putting collections of art or even a single piece of art in such “brackets”, not only are a lot of factors such as social, cultural and even economic circumstances neglected, but also one can fail to acknowledge the fact that an artwork is a display of the life and faiths of people, of the development of society.

The purpose of our project is to take art and archiving, and their relationship, to a new level and show that it is not the collection of painting on the same subject or depicting the same place the base for an archive. On the contrary, we “reverse” the model and look at a single piece of art as “the whole” and the archive as a part of that whole. What is more, we view a sole artwork as a map that does not show a particular location, but offers many paths that may lead to unexpected places if explored carefully.  In that sense, an indicator of an artwork such as the place represented can be a start point, a map which after examination reveals numerous layers of history and development of not just art itself, but also mankind.  By challenging the common understanding of archives and art and setting up a new view on their interconnection we try to show the vigorous layers hidden behind “oil on canvas”.

This idea was influenced by the Tate ArtMaps initiative, a crowdsourcing project which allows the public to suggest locations for artworks in the Tate's collection. We have taken this idea and used Turner's depiction of Exeter as an 'artmap' in itself, to create an archive of the history of Exeter and its relation to art and to the present.

Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775 – 1851)

J.M.W. Turner was a British painter, mainly famous for his landscapes and watercolours.

Turner was born in Covent Garden in 1775, the son of William Turner, a barber who himself was born in Devon. His father encouraged his son’s interest in art from a young age, even displaying the young Turner’s drawings in his shop. However, Turner later acquired training and experience in art from studying at the Royal Academy Schools, work experience in architecture and painting scenery.

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. As well as access to different rural and coastal landscapes, Turner was also brought to the county by family connections, as his father was born there, and he had uncles in both Exeter and Barnstaple. He later travelled abroad to countries such as France and Italy.

As well as landscapes, Turner also painted on historical and classical themes, moving into more contemporary subjects by the 1830s. 

Turner died in 1851. He was buried, according to his wishes to be amongst his ‘brothers in art’, in St. Paul’s Cathedral, London.

Source: Tate

For a more in-depth biography:

In October 2014, a film by Mike Leigh, exploring the last quarter century of Turner’s life, will be released in the UK. The film has already received two awards and a nomination at Cannes.

The Engraving

The engraving of Exeter explored here was taken from an original watercolour painting by Turner completed in around 1827. The engraving is part of a collection dating from 1827-38, Picturesque Views in England and Wales, which was a catalogue of various engravings of landscapes taken from Turner’s images. The engravings were undertaken by a numerous different people, and published in twenty-four sets of four prints. The University of Exeter has over 600 Turner pieces in its collection. This particular engraving of Turner is by Thomas Jeavons (1795 – 1865).

Although Turner visited Devon in 1811 and 1813, his watercolour painting of Exeter was not produced until c.1827 and the engravings after that. The effects of time and the practice of integrating different sketches can be seen in the inclusion of a footbridge, which did not exist in reality.

The project was not a financial success, nonetheless, it allowed for the creation and printing of many of Turner’s landscapes.

Source: Tate