I finally found my Lawrence Gowing book. It’s the essay he wrote for the Turner MoMA show in 1966.
Here’s an extended passage that will give a sense of Turner’s revolutionary impact. It was echoed in Constable as well. This is of vital importance in understanding not just Turner, but in understanding his impact on and importance to the subsequent course of painting.
I’ll quote a full paragraph:
It was not only a conventional code of figuration that was breaking down under Turner’s relentless pressure. The whole condition of painting was in question. It had been founded on an axiom derived from classical sources, the axiom, as Fuseli put it, ‘that the less the traces appear of the means by which a work has been produced, the more it resemble the operations of nature.’ The traces of Turner’s means were unconcealed. In 1804 he was applying paint freely and visibly with the palette knife. Wilkie, who had just arrived in London with an admiration for Teniers, thought it the most abominable workmanship he ever saw; only the effect was natural. By the next year there was a host of young painters working in the new manner. [‘It is the scribbling of painting,’ a critic remarked, ‘so much of the trowel–so mortary.’ Painting was now required to resemble itself before anything else; the operations portrayed were first and foremost the painter’s. The change was a lasting one and twenty years later a writer described what had happened. ‘It is evident that Mr. Constable’s landscapes are like nature; it is still more evident that they are like paint.’ It is the fact that this became the new condition of painting that makes the old criticisms now read like praise.
This was a fundamental shift of consciousness. A paradigm shift, if you will.
It is evident that Mr. Constable’s landscapes are like nature; it is still more evident that they are like paint.