Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Tate Britain: Late Turner

Monday 15 September 2014

Tate Britain
Millbank SW1

I had better start with a couple of justifications:  the original 'rules' of the Project  said that we were not going to visit special exhibitions.  But the problem is that it is quite unusual to go to one of our great galleries without a special exhibition to draw one.  When did anyone last pop into Tate Brit to have a quick look at the Turners?  Also, as several of the reviews have said, most of the sumptuous works in this exhibition normally live in the Tate, so we could be seeing them on a 'normal' visit. AND because as a Member of Tate, it was free entry. Finally, what are rules for if not to be broken?

So Linda and I met on the steps, just before the place opened. Linda's journey was much easier than we had feared, with the Victoria Line down: an 87 bus dropped her at the door. And I really approve of places in Westminster that have adequate cycle racks. I had time to watch the large number of people using the so-called super highway along Millbank.

There is no photography allowed in the exhibition, but you will find a number of reproductions here;  and the exhibition is really worth visiting.

It is very difficult to believe that Turner was in his 60s before Queen Victoria came to the throne, and died before the Great Exhibition opened.  The pictures are amazingly modern:  while there were brief references to Turner being influenced by Claude, there was no discussion of what the Impressionists had learned from him.  A couple of the paintings of the Thames could almost have been from that Monet series, from the early 20th century.  Turner's depiction of light and atmosphere kept taking our breath away.

As well as the paintings, the exhibition includes several of his notebooks; he sketched endlessly, sometimes in washes of watercolour, sometimes with meticulous pencil drawings (or 'graphite' as curators always put in the captions)  There was also a room with a wall full of sample sketches, which his agent would show to prospective clients and then he would make paintings from them.  

The six rooms of the Exhibition are more-or-less themed, with a whole room full of sea pictures, and another of his various travels, with the sketchbooks set alongside finished works.  Venice, of course, predominates, but there were many swiss scenes as well.  Very interesting was a room of smaller circular or square oils, almost everyone a vortex of light of amazing brilliance.  But I am not qualified or equipped to evaluate pictures other than to say that they are wonderful!

We did also enjoy a picture, by William Parrott, of Turner on varnishing day at the Royal Academy:  you can see it here if you scroll down to figure 20.  It was interesting because the Tate Exhibition has quite a lot to say about the critics, and occasions when buyers changed their minds having listened to the critics.  You could argue that the modern visitor to Tate should be grateful, since these form some of the great Turner Bequest, which included everything in his studio at his death in 1851.

When we could manage no more wonderful colour and form, we went up to the newish Members' Room, which occupies the balcony all round the inside of the Dome, and had a cup of coffee.

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