In my opinion, if you’re going to take a tour, you should always opt for the live tour guide who will provide interesting anecdotes and background, and answer all the questions that pop into your mind. That same rule applies to art exhibits, and thankfully, the Dallas Museum of Art does a fabulous job of providing context and clarity for people who, like me, look at a painting and can think only: "That’s pretty."

The museum’s latest exhibit of British artist J.M.W. Turner, whom the museum is hailing as  "one of the greatest landscape painters in the history of art," will kick off this weekend with an opening day exhibition tour on Sunday, Feb. 10 at 3 p.m. The tour guide is Ian Warrell, curator of 18th and 19th century painting at the Tate Britian, and one of the world’s foremost experts on Turner. Warrell’s tour is included with admission to the exhibit, and since you’ll pay the same price a few weeks later to walk through on your own, why not see it now?

I was part of a preview tour yesterday in which Warrell revealed all kinds of fascinating tidbits — plus, details are always more interesting in a British accent. The paintings are indeed beautiful, but the thing that struck me about the exhibit was Turner’s bent toward "empires and the direction they inevitably follow," as Warrell put it. The French revolution took place during Turner’s teenage years, and as an adult, he began to see the crumbling of Napoleon’s empire as well of the launch of his own nation’s empire around the world. He wrestled with these realities, such as in his paintings detailing the rise and fall of Carthage.

In today’s world, the rise and fall of empires continues all around us. Turner seemed to embrace the reality of the cycles of history, and used his landscape painting to express both the strength and fragility of empires. In this painting, for example, "Snow Storm: Hannibal and His Army Crossing the Alps, 1812," Warrell explains that the powerful landscape expresses Turner’s sentiment that "the forces of history are no match for the forces of nature."

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