The music of Claude Debussy and the painting of J.M.W. Turner are, in most people's minds, two entirely different things. However, each man was considered the founder of impressionism in his own artform. Impressionism was a movement in late 19th century European art, which was a reflection of the realizations in physics about the properties of light. Turner's atmospheric paintings and Debussy's tone poems, although different forms of expression, are interesting to historians in their similarities of color, subject, and atmosphere.
Turner often applied the colors in order, separately and unmixed, thus allowing the viewer to interpret the image optically. For example, in his piece "Sunset over a Ruined Castle on a Cliff", all seven colors of the spectrum were painted on one by one, creating a stunning brilliance and intensity. By using bands of individual color an expressive scene of diffused light is lent a strong sensation of nature and the landscape. Ruskin has said of Turner, "[he would] never give a quarter of an inch of canvas without a change in it, a melody as well as a harmony of one kind or another." This interests historians because Turner was one of the first artists to use this color-layering technique.
In music, the analogy to color is harmonics. Debussy's use of harmonics, and therefore color, was to allow dissonance in his music, and to let the listener resolve the harmonies for herself. Also, by permitting chords to flow freely from a tonal center, Debussy would suggest the same glow and brilliance as Turner did in his paintings. Debussy is known to have said, "We are not concerned with the form of the nocturne, but everything that this word includes in the way of diversified impression and special lights." This is of interest to historians because, like Turner, Debussy broke the mold of classical form in the creation of his exotic melodies.
Turner's paintings depicted...