On The Wing
January 22, 2015
Posted by on
Late Turner: Painting Set Free is another wonderful exhibition – those of us within easy strike of the metropolis are blessed to have so much fantastic art on our doorstep – and Tate Britain is to be congratulated on pulling the stops out to stage this calorie-laden feast. I have to declare an interest – JMW Turner, in my humble opinion, is right up there as one of the greatest artists so it would be difficult to find fault with this show which concentrates on his art works from around 1835 to his death in 1851. Each of the six rooms are a delight and the added bonus was that whilst busy the gallery offered sufficient space for the on-looker to study and move around at leisure.
The big question surrounding Tuner of this period is was his output, as the critic Ruskin who to that point had been one of his staunchest supporters, the product of a diseased eye and reckless hand – the artist’s palette framed by two pairs of specs with bottle thick lenses hanging in the first room shows he was struggling with his sight – or is it the turning point in artistic development from naturalism to impressionism. You pays your money and makes your choice, of course, and whilst the exhibition doesn’t draw a definitive conclusion I came away firmly in the latter, modernist, progressive camp.
There are so many wonderful pieces to enjoy. One of my absolute favourites – Rain, Steam and Speed – with its maelstrom of swirls evoking mechanical speed and celestial tempests – was there in a corner but is so powerful I found myself transfixed before it. Turner was in awe with modernity but also was at ease in painting more conventional pieces, depicting scenes from mythology and the like – but even in those works his impressionistic style bursts through.
Turner was a great traveller and one of the many highlights of the show is his scenes of Venice – his Approach to Venice is absolutely stunning in its use of light to emphasise the beauty and atmosphere of the city. For the first time since, probably, their original airing at the Royal Academy we can compare and contrast his lustrous Modern Rome: Campo Vaccino (1839) with his Ancient Rome. The mountains and lakes of Switzerland feature in many of his watercolours and sketchbooks. And nearer home we have the magnificent (on some many levels!) Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons and the views from Waterloo Bridge.
One room was given to a slightly odd display of around ten paintings which were square in shape framed in grotesquely ornate circular frames – the contrast between the two adding to the power of the artwork.
But for me the best room was the display of paintings featuring the sea – Turner is at his best portraying the power and elemental violence of wind and wave. Surprisingly, The Fighting Temeraire, is not on display but there are so many other jewels that this surprising omission does not diminish the power of the exhibition.
It is hard to envisage what a shock Turner’s art of this period would have caused. To the modern viewer we are looking at the birth of impressionism and abstract art and that is Turner’s everlasting legacy.