Late Turner paintings set free: Tate Britain, The EY Exhibition

ancient_rome_agrippina_landing_with_the_ashes_of_germanicus[1] Ending on the 25th January; Late Turner at Tate Britain is one exhibition not to be missed. The interest in both Turner and his works has spiked of late due in no small part to the recent biographical movie drama Mr Turner starring Timothy Spall a part for which Spall was awarded Best Actor for his portrayal of the eccentric British painter at the Cannes Film Festival. The exhibition begins with works from 1835 when Turner was age 60 and closes with his last exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1850 and is a insight into the last and some say best works. These are the paintings that saw the artist in a seemingly tortured  state of constant experimentation. Some artist’s seem like wine they  get better with age, is it perhaps the realization of their own mortality, a frustration that induces the sense  of panic to grasp the elusive thread of genius that pulls a lifetimes work together. In the case of Turner there seems to be a bit of a conundrum,  some schools of thought saying the experimental painting of his final years being his finest works, the inspiration for future painting styles that influenced artist such as Monet and  Dali . Turner would come to be regarded by many as the father of modernist art, others not so complimentary .  As  the exhibition heads towards the final chapter of Turner’s life  not everyone convinced of this genius, in fact he found himself ridiculed by his peers, even Ruskin a previous disciple dismissed his works as “indicative of a mental disease” and certainly there is evidence in his behaviour had became increasingly eccentric in the final years. There was also suggestions of failing eyesight and perhaps alcohol abuse. All  of these theories of course imply Turner was losing control of his painting skills and judgement, but it could also be argued that he was, not only in total control but had so mastered the disciplines of recognised form and structure to such a degree,he further sought to capture and tame the very sprite and energy of the drama he saw. Burial at sea painted in 1842 as a tribute to his friend and rival Sir David Wilkie who died on board the Oriental on the return journey from the Middle East is a good example of Turner playing with his audience. This painting with its calculated palette to contrast the stark blacks of the sails and the reflection of both dark and light in the sea, yet the sky is a patchy grey with glimpses of blue, dismissed by his critics as the work of a madman because it was considered that the colours were untrue to nature, the critics trapped in the world of conformity  in 1842 had little understanding  Turner’s need to paint what he felt, each painting is a personal masterpiece of pure theatre. Peace - Burial at Sea exhibited 1842 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851
Rules are made for people to lazy to make their own.
As the exhibition shows Turner was any thing but lazy, there are over 10,000 individual sketches incorporated in 300 sketchbooks in the Turner Bequest. The suggestion that he often neglected details in his painting is a nonsense, but if he felt an object in the painting added nothing he would alter or leave it out altogether. This was seen as a cardinal sin by the purest Landscape painters like Constable, who sought to create atmosphere but within reality with little room for abstraction, Turner on the other hand was not content to observe and record the scene, he wanted to be part of it.
We see the world not as the world is but as we are.
The Tate has set aside a special room for Turner’s greatest oddity the famous square canvases. These nine finished works sent the press of the day into a frenzy of abuse. Landscapes are never square or in some cases round, the very idea was insane. But is it insane, these pictures have never been shown in the same room at one time before,but even if on the surface they seem unrelated their shape brings them together into a collective series that perhaps Turner may have always intended to be displayed as a group, is there a underlying message that we have yet to understand. My own theory is that Josepy Mallord Turner was far from insane, already rich and famous in his lifetime he made himself unique by simple stepping out of conformity and being different, Turner wrote a whole new set of rules.

Late Turner Painting set free is showing at the Tate till January 25th 2015.
The Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles February 24-May 25 2015 and at de Young Fine Art Museum of San Francisco June 20-20 September 2015.
Words David Coomber
pictures courtesy of Tate Britain London

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