“Atmosphere is my style,” asserted J.M.W. Turner, the legendary British painter, when critics assailed the inexplicable abstraction of his seascapes.

That was in the 1830s. Today, the artist’s precocious modernism is on glorious view through May 18 at the Dallas Museum of Art as it hosts the largest Turner retrospective ever in the U.S. The show opened at the National Gallery of Art in Washington last fall and makes its final stop this summer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

This story first appeared in the March 13, 2008 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Turner’s fascination with light in landscapes and seascapes predated the Impressionist movement by more than 50 years. In the latter part of his life he was brushing flicks of phosphorescence into seascapes and depicting storms as whirls of color.

The exhibition features 136 works, evenly divided between oils and watercolors. Fascinated by the immense power of nature and the fragility of human empires, Turner chose epic subjects — the burning of the Houses of Parliament, storms, shipwrecks — and rendered strikingly evocative tableaux.

“The paintings have a visceral presence, a kind of cinematic impact that you do not get from the books, the press pack or the Web sites,” said Dorothy Kosinski, curator of 19th-century art at the DMA.