How was Joseph Mallord William Turner a modern artist? At a time when British art is grappling with an inferiority complex compared to the rest of Europe, Turner and his rival John Constable are painters that their compatriots do not hesitate to oppose to the greatest French masters or Italians. Turner was also the kind of artist who couldn’t have existed a few decades ago. The son of a London barber and wigmaker, he worked his way to the top by the force of his talent, never losing his Cockney accent or his love of a pint in the pub despite spending so much time. time with rich and educated people.
However, The Modern World of Turner marks it as modern by tracing its relationship to the industrial revolution, which occurred during his lifetime. Turner appeared at a time when aesthetics were marked by Edmund Burke’s treatise On the sublime and the beautiful, in which the Anglo-Irish politician and philosopher declared that the sublime (the art which teaches us our insignificance by considering the forces which can destroy us) was superior to the beautiful (the art which pleases the senses). Like many other British artists, Turner took this idea and painted large canvases depicting people eclipsed by nature. Unlike his colleagues, Turner was also fascinated by the technological advances of his time. The Kimbell Art Museum‘s successful exhibition on the work of this master takes up this last idea. The basic thesis is compelling, but I’m not sure the exhibit fully proves his point.
The exhibition was organized by Tate Britain, which owns over 10,000 of the artist’s works following his surrender to the Crown after his death in 1851. Three of Turner’s most famous works (“The Slave Ship “,” Rain, Steam, and Speed ”and” The Fighting Temeraire “) could not make the trip to Texas. Too bad for the latter – it would have been cool to sit in front of the same board that James had. Bond and Q discussed in Fall from the sky. Even so, there is more than enough at the Kimbell to demonstrate Turner’s attitude about the changing world he has lived in. His oil painting “Staffa: Fingal’s Cave” was inspired by a steamboat trip to a Scottish island that has become a dangerous place in time. The boat that brought him back to safety with his fellow travelers makes a heroic figure in the midst of the storm.
On the flip side, Turner’s thrill for his country’s manufacturing prowess comes with a nostalgia for the old ways that are gone. His painting “War. The exile and the limpets ”depicts Napoleon, imprisoned on the island of Elba and unfortunately concerning an aquatic snail which currently enjoys more freedom than him. The accompanying work is “Peace – Burial at Sea”, whose blues and blacks contrast with the reds and yellows of “War”. This work was inspired by the death of Turner’s professional rival, Sir David Wilkie, who fell ill on his return from the Middle East and had to be buried in the ocean. With these two paintings, Turner comments on the ephemeral nature of all things. With “Chichester Canal”, he celebrates the beauty of the new canal connecting London to the south coast of England while lamenting that the railways made it obsolete even before it opened.
It’s great, but the exhibit tries to highlight Turner as a socially conscious artist who opposed slavery and lamented the human cost of the Napoleonic wars. Without a doubt, it was part of his personality, but his art is not the strongest when it comes to expressing this. “The Field of Waterloo” and “Snow Storm: Hannibal and His Army Crossing the Alps” are austere in their portrayal of armies reduced to insignificance by the storms to come, but they are nowhere near as piercing as the works. de Goya on the theme of war, which were made around the same time. Museum captions depict the unfinished painting of death on a pale horse titled “The Fall of Anarchy” in response to the recent Peterloo Massacre, but it might as well have referred to a recent cholera outbreak that killed people 55,000 Britons or death. of Turner’s father, with whom he was particularly close.
What I took away from the show is the old story of Turner being a master of light and color. “The Burning of the House of Lords and Commons” was inspired by an 1834 fire that burned down Parliament, which Turner and much of London witnessed. This painting is remarkable not for commenting on the controversial laws that Parliament had just passed, but for that great tongue of flame that forced its way through the blue canvas. (By the way, Turner painted two pictures of that fire and somehow found permanent homes in America. We see the Cleveland one, not the Philadelphia one.) Turner probably didn’t have it. the crew of a boat tie him to a mast so he can paint “Snow Storm: Steam-Boat off a Harbor’s Mouth”, but it’s still a masterpiece, with its swirl of black smoke, white snow and blue water creating an energetic blur that would inspire impressionists and abstract artists of later eras. Kimbell’s “Glaucus and Scylla” catches the eye with its ominous chrome yellows. Even before the 19th century is half over, here’s JMW Turner giving us a disturbing glimpse of the next.