Old Mr Turner

posted in: Inspiration | 6

I love Turner – England’s foremost painter. I love the colour and the light in his painting – Turner’s amazing, superb ability to capture the environment, especially the sky and the sea. We are especially fortunate in London that many of his works were left to the nation at his death, and held by Tate Britain, where many are on permanent display.

My favourites have always been the work of the old man, whose work at the time (1840s) was ridiculed and disliked by art society in general. Apparently Queen Victoria hated his paintings intensely as they refused to conform to the realistic, sentimental paintings so fashionable at the time. When Turner was toothless (his death mask is on display), with misty eyes, significant disabilities, he painted the most magnificent paintings. For him the Sun was God and he tried to capture the essence of light in all his work.

Here is an iPhone representation of a post card I bought at Tate Britain last week, following a first visit to its Late Turner exhibition.

Turner The Blue Rigi, Sunrise
The Blue Rigi, Sunrise, 1842

I had never seen this picture before – it is a small (30 x 45cm) watercolour sketch, used to try to get work creating a larger, similar painting. But the price offered to Turner was offensive and he did not progress it. The brush strokes in the foreground look like a group of people, waiting for boats perhaps.

If you want a short history of Turner this account is very fair. But there is a Mike Leigh film out at the moment, Mr Turner, starting the fabulous Timothy Spall. Now I am a huge fan of Mike Leigh as well as Turner, but for me the film was a flop. Long and boring (I dropped off twice!), showing Turner as an introverted, grunting almost animalistic beast. Intellectual critics seem to have enjoyed it but to me it doesn’t begin to compare with Topsy Turvy about Gilbert and Sullivan, which is quite brilliant (and incidentally has wonderful costumes and music).

I have always loved the later works of Turner in their abstraction, the precursor of impressionism, with romantic roots. They are paintings of optimism and joy.

Turner Fishermen on the Lagoon
Fishermen on the Lagoon, Moonlight, 1840

I hope to use these images for silk painting inspiration.

But here is an old favourite of mine, Norham Castle, Sunrise (1845). This is one of his oil paintings, and is on display regularly if not permanently. It features in the Late Turner exhibition. The colours are so bright and beautiful, the blue and yellow with just a touch of reddish brown cow in the middle distance, set off against a background of subtle greys and browns. When I was at college I used this painting as inspiration for knitting, creating a piece with mohair wools. It had a pleasing and passing resemblance.

Turner, Norham Castle, Sunrise c1845
Norham Castle, Sunrise c1845

I saw this exhibition with my friend Galina, who is a keen and expert knitter. She turned up in a tomato red cabled sweater that looked fantastic. I gave her a copy of this post card and she gave me some knitting advice. I would certainly recommend the exhibition, and will go again, but you could give the film a miss.

6 Responses

  1. nicola0515

    Some lovely images ! I want to see the film as I met the owner of the property they used to film much of the internal shots – a rambling old house in Woolwich of all places. He wanted to sell it for an HA scheme but too many ££££’s in his eyes!

  2. Tim Morton

    Are you saying the film is as exciting as “Watching Paint Dry”?
    I can hear Timothy Spall’s riposte from here!

  3. Turner has always been one of my favourite painters! The light in his paintings is so crazy and full and wonderful. In about 2002 there was a big exhibition here – Turner Whistler Monet – that drew connections between the legacies of the three artists that was great. I travelled to different cities to see it. I had been wondering about the Mike Leigh movie as I am also a big fan of Mike Leigh’s thoughtful, restrained type of film-making. Too bad that it isn’t sufficiently dynamic for the subject at hand. Envious that you can go to exhibitions like this regularly! 🙂

  4. I thought you would find it interesting that the family of one of the children my daughter teaches live in Turners house on Chelsea Embankment. They say it has not changed much at all.

  5. Thank you so much for taking me to see this exhibition Kate. It was a lovely and inspirational time together.

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