J.M.W. Turner: Painting Set Free

In a word: AMAZING!

In a few more: Go see for yourself. If you can get to the exhibit at a quieter time, all the better, but I’d almost say it’s worth braving crowds. Although I can’t say that for sure, since my cousin and I went on a Friday early evening. We didn’t have it to ourselves by any means, but it wasn’t wall-to-wall people and I didn’t feel my visit and enjoyment of the works was impinged upon by the other folks there. And of course it is always amusing to see people do the gallery shuffle – slide right to next picture, slide and dip to read title card – often times spending more time on the reading than the looking at the paintings, slide to next gotta get through them all. Sometimes it’s fun to go the opposite direction, or randomly zig-zag the galleries. Oh, am I THAT person? There was also an audio tour option, so some people were wandering around listening to that. I’m sure there were some interesting and informative things in the audio, but what ever happened to LOOKING AT THE ART? Maybe the audio wasn’t telling you what to think about it, but I couldn’t help but wonder. Anyway, I digress.

Of course great signage, then the opening gallery had a video installation of an ocean scene – many of Turner’s works are inspired by and depict the sea.

Then, the paintings… Light, movement, glowing, pulling you in. Several I felt I was going to be pulled up in The Rapture, standing in front of them. Abstract and evocative at a distance, resolving in some parts to intense details at close range. They can be appreciated at many levels. Many were large oils, but some of the ones I particularly enjoyed were smaller watercolors.

And I did learn some good tidbits from the accompanying exhibit texts. Both the Royal Academy and the British Institution for Promoting the Fine Arts in the United Kingdom had a period of time called “Varnishing days” after an exhibition was hung but before it was open to the public, in which the artists could put finishing touches on their works. Turner was an advocate of this, and on several occasions actually did most of a work onsite during this time.

Another text about his travels: “He travelled light, usually alone, and often walked many miles.” also had the (probably unintentionally) amusing line that “like any other tourist, he contended with such problems as foreign languages and occasional illnesses.” And mentioned his work ethic, that he was almost constantly drawing in his sketchbooks.

When he died in 1851 at the age of 76, the contents of his studio – which eventually went to the British nation – were 100 finished oil paintings, 182 unfinished oils and oil sketches and 19,049 drawings and water colors. His wishes that his estate of *140,000 establish a charity for poor artists was not realized due to family members contesting the will.

The exhibit of about 60 works spread over several rooms was satisfying without being overwhelming. I definitely felt full but not overly so. I’d previously visited the general collections area of the museum, and didn’t feel a need to revisit, but found myself in front of David Hockney’s Seven Yorkshire Landscape Videos, which was quite mesmerizing. Also popped in to see the room of Diebenkorn prints – his drypoints just slay me – and with that was quite full, thank you very much.

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