Saturday, February 18, 2012

J.M.W. Turner

Norham Castle, Sunrise. (circa 1845)

Last weekend was extremely windy and cold. So, Jennifer and I spent much of the time indoors, piddling with this and that. I was reading the introduction to one of my books on Impressionism and noted in particular the influence of earlier painters on the movement. One heavyweight artist that stood out to me was Joseph Mallford William Turner.

But, the book I was reading only had one painting of his. I recognized the work, however, as a piece I had seen many years ago, just after college, when a Turner exhibit came to the University museum. This motivated me to fire up my iPad and go the terrific app, Art Authority, to see what was contained there on Turner's work.

There are 127 Turner paintings in Art Authority. Jennifer and I both enjoyed looking at them, spending more time on some of the ones presented in this post. Jennifer was particularly taken with Turner's precise titles for his paintings, mostly watercolors - the medium he preferred even though he was accomplished in oils as well.

While Turner could paint vividly detailed landscapes, it is his exploration of more abstract representations that appeal most to Jennifer and me. It is easy to see his influence on Impressionism by enjoying these works. They are examples of where Turner did not attempt to paint nature as seen by the human eye but rather he painted light as it is expressed in nature, particularly defused light in fogs and mists.

This is something few artists before Turner had attempted and certainly no one before him experimented with the abstraction of light, combined with its emotional power to the extent of Turner. In this sense he was a true pioneer. He exhibited impressions of light and nature and people that pre-date Monet, Renoir, etc. by 30 - 50 years. Amazing and prophetic stuff.

Rain, Steam and Speed - the Great Western Railway (1844)

Light and Color - the Morning after the Deluge - Moses Writing the Book of Genesis (circa 1844) To me, this seems almost like a reflection in a brass door knob viewed close up.

Snow Storm: Hannibal and His Army Crossing the Alps (circa 1812)

Death on a Pale Horse (circa 1825-1830)

The Decline of the Carthaginian Empire (circa 1818) This work is less abstract and typical of Turner's detailed, neoclassical work that was far more common in this period.

The Burning of the Houses of Parliament (1834)

Snow Storm - Steam Boat off a Harbor's Mouth Making Signals in Shallow Water (circa 1843)

Venice, Looking East from the Giudecca: Sunrise (1819) Compare this with Claude Monet's "Impression: Sunrise" from 1872 and you will see Turner was more than a half century ahead of his time.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Second name Mallord, not Mallford (he once included a Mallard duck in a painting as an autobiographical pun), but this is a very good write-up with its focus on proto-impressionist abstraction, and the repros are far better than what you normally see online. Well-done!