Monday, 15 December 2014

Enjoying the Late Turner Show at Tate Britain

I somehow missed that movie about JMW Turner, where Timothy Spall played the painter in his later life. I'd heard mixed views about it ranging from 'great' to 'lacking', and my moment of hesitation means I'll now have to wait for the DVD.

I'd anyway thought it would be good to see the Late Turner show at the Tate Britain. To be honest, I wasn't that sure of the chronology of some that I really liked, and was relieved to see that they had been included in the show.

The Londoner joke about the show is that you get a free painting set at the end of the exhibition (you don't) - and that's because of the tag-line used on the posters and advertising - "Painting set free"...
The area of the gallery showing the Turners was bustling with people, including quite a few using those mini chairs so that they could longer at some of the pictures. I was on a schedule and had to graze my way around, so my impressions might be different from those taking longer to consider every brush-stroke. My big gallery strategy is anyway to be drawn to things I like rather than necessarily look at everything.

Some peoples' agenda for this show is to look for the point where Turner's style lapsed as his eye-sight and alcohol self-medication interfered with his painting.

Let me say that I thought that some of his later pictures including a whole series of watercolour samplers were terrific. They would have been among his last paintings, but there was a colour palette that looked wonderful. The samplers were A4-sized pictures used as a way to attract attention towards the commissioning of a new large scale works. Apparently, there was some kind of new paint system from Switzerland(?) that he used for these later pictures and I enjoyed walking around them as much as looking at some of the bigger and more well known works.

Earlier in the show were some of his blockbuster pictures. This is where I'm more divided in my view.

I think Turner's seascapes and pictures which incorporate something mechanical can be spectacular, with light, water, skies, haze and clever impressions of the central items. A favourite of mine is the Sol di Venezia going to sea, with the picturesque bragozzo against the backdrop of an initially almost indiscernible Venice, which appears more as you stare at the picture. There's a premonition of doom accompanying the picture too, with a warning about the dangers at sea.
Turner Sol del Veneza going to sea
Likewise seeing another favourite of mine - Rain, Steam and Speed showing Brunel's Great Western Railway with a Gooch Firefly class broad gauge locomotive crossing the Maidenhead Viaduct outbound from Paddington.
Rain, Steam, Speed
So I should probably remain quieter about some of the ones I'm less keen on. Vast canvases depicting mythical scenes, with shafts of light and billowing clouds.

Although some of these were still show-stoppers, I found less for me in this category, perhaps because there's such a number of paintings to view and undoubtedly a matter of personal taste.

Another thing that struck me was the way the lighting of the gallery and the frequent golden frames lifted the perception of the larger pieces. I've a couple of illustrative pictures in this post where I've boosted the perceptual colour. The train picture always has a yellow glow in my memory and the ship has some reds which somehow don't come through in a flat photo rendition.

Turner's pictures also had some humour, with little two or three brush stroke animals and other focal points added sometimes, to me at least, almost whimsically. I'd like to think it was Turner's little aside to the viewer of the work, alongside the majesty of the main pieces.

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