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AGO to host major exhibition of rare Turner works this fall

Critically acclaimed solo exhibition from the Tate Britain makes its only Canadian appearance in Toronto

TORONTO—This fall the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) will host a major exhibition celebrating the experimental and contemplative works of Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), a giant of British art. Opening on Oct. 31, 2015, J.M.W. Turner: Painting Set Free features more than 50 large-scale paintings and watercolours on loan from Tate Britain and makes the case that the radical works created in the final 15 years of Turner’s career, with their arresting use of light, represent a fulfillment of the artist’s upward trajectory.

“By bringing an exhibition of this calibre to Toronto this fall, the AGO will offer an exceptional experience to its members and visitors, and we’re delighted to be partnering with one of the world’s most renowned art institutions to do so,” says Stephanie Smith, the AGO’s Chief Curator. “Turner was a great artist who reimagined the medium of painting to create powerful and beautiful works. Through his art, he invites us to bear witness to the rapidly changing world of his time and to delight in the power of the artistic imagination."

Premiered at Tate Britain in September 2014 and heralded by critics across the U.K. as “an exciting, entrancing show” (The Guardian) and “sensational” (London Evening Standard), J.M.W. Turner: Painting Set Free focuses on the final and most experimental phase of the artist’s career. Beginning in 1835 and closing with his last exhibitions at the Royal Academy in 1850, the exhibition sets out to show how Turner’s final years were a time of exceptional energy and vigour, initiated by one of his most wide-ranging tours of Europe. The installation at the AGO will be coordinated by Lloyd DeWitt, AGO Curator of European Art.

Turner’s late works, with their emphasis on atmosphere, are famous for their sublime colour palettes, textures and arresting use of light. Highlights of the exhibition include the large historical works Ancient Rome: Agrippina Landing with the Ashes of Germanicus (exhibited 1839); Snow Storm - Steam Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth (exhibited 1842) and the iconic Angel Standing in the Sun (exhibited 1846); as well as numerous and magnificent watercolours, including The Blue Rigi, Sunrise (1842) and the haunting Fire at the Grand Storehouse of the Tower of London (1841).

“J.M.W. Turner is a towering figure of British 19th-century art,” says DeWitt. “His innovative approach remains an ongoing inspiration to contemporary artists and audiences. And yet it was during this last, most fruitful period of his life that his art was most misunderstood. Mocked publicly, Turner baffled his critics with his radical approach. Nonetheless, he carried on experimenting with unusual subject matters and different canvas formats and mastering his free and spontaneous techniques in both oil and watercolour.”

J.M.W. Turner: Painting Set Free runs at the AGO until Jan. 31, 2016. A 250-page, soft-cover catalogue will accompany the exhibition. Published by the Tate and edited by David Blayney Brown, Amy Concannon and Sam Smiles, J.M.W. Turner: Painting Set Free features more than 100 colour plates and will be available for sale in shopAGO for $63.

AGO members will be offered free admission to J.M.W. Turner: Painting Set Free and exclusive previews in the days leading up to the exhibition’s public opening. More information on the benefits of AGO membership can be found at

J.M.W.Turner: Painting Set Free is organized by Tate Britain.

Media Partner: Globe and Mail

Official Hotel Partner: Chelsea Hotel

With a collection of more than 80,000 works of art, the Art Gallery of Ontario is among the most distinguished art museums in North America. From the vast body of Group of Seven and signature Canadian works to the African art gallery, from the cutting-edge contemporary art to Peter Paul Rubens’ masterpiece The Massacre of The Innocents, the AGO offers an incredible art experience with each visit. In 2002 Ken Thomson’s generous gift of 2,000 remarkable works of Canadian and European art inspired Transformation AGO, an innovative architectural expansion by world-renowned architect Frank Gehry that in 2008 resulted in one of the most critically acclaimed architectural achievements in North America. Highlights include Galleria Italia, a gleaming showcase of wood and glass running the length of an entire city block, and the often-photographed spiral staircase, beckoning visitors to explore. The AGO has an active membership program offering great value, and the AGO’s Weston Family Learning Centre offers engaging art and creative programs for children, families, youth and adults. Visit to find out more about upcoming special exhibitions, to learn about eating and shopping at the AGO, to register for programs and to buy tickets or memberships.

April 11 – Aug. 9, 2015: From the Forest to the Sea: Emily Carr in British Columbia

June 20 – Sept. 20, 2015: Picturing the Americas: Landscape Painting from Tierra del Fuego to the Arctic

Oct. 31, 2015 – Jan. 30, 2016: J.M.W. Turner: Painting Set Free

The Art Gallery of Ontario is funded in part by the Ontario Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport. Additional operating support is received from the City of Toronto, the Canada Council for the Arts and generous contributions from AGO members, donors and private-sector partners.


For hi-res images and other press inquiries, please contact:

Andrea-Jo Wilson; News Officer, AGO Communications
416-979-6660, ext. 403,

Caitlin Coull; Manager, AGO Communications
416-979-6660, ext. 364,

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