How thin walls inspired classic

One of the images
One of the images
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THe secret history of a classic painting hung in Sheffield’s Graves Art Gallery has been revealed by fascinating new research.

JMW Turner’s The Festival Upon the Opening of the Vintage of Mâcon, painted in 1803, has long been recognised as one of the painter’s key early masterpieces.

But the work may have been influenced by scientific theories that he overheard, new research suggests.

While the painter was in the Royal Academy, he was in the adjacent rooms to where scientists of the Royal Society held regular meetings.

Turner biographer James Hamilton says in a new book that the thin walls would have allowed the artist to overhear their discoveries.

He believes one of Turner’s works makes use of Sir William Herschel’s theories about the sun.

In an essay written in a new book Turner and the Elements, Mr Hamilton looks at the artist’s treatment of the natural world.

He writes that, as Turner was in close proximity to the scientists at London’s Somerset House, now occupied by the Courtauld Galleries, ‘cross fertilisation’ would naturally have occurred and he would have heard about the latest and most complex discoveries in science.

Mr Hamilton also notes that two years after Sir William Hershel lectured the scientists on the ‘ridges, nodules and corrugations’ he had observed in the surface of the sun in 1801, Turner was also creating the effect within a painting.

In his 1803 painting the artist appears to have painted the sun in the way Sir William had described it.

The biographer adds that Turner was fascinated by science.

He was also friends with mathematician Mary Somerville and scientist Michael Faraday, who helped him test the durability of his pigments.

Faraday and Turner also later showed an astonishing similarity in their observations of natural phenomena, he says.

The Sheffield painting is to be loaned by the Graves Gallery to a major new exhibition based on the new book, Turner and the Elements.