Wednesday 27 March 2013

Turner at the Tate

J.M.W. Turner at Tate Britain.

Apologies for the reflected ceiling lights in the pictures.

Norham Castle, Sunrise, 1845 (oil on canvas)

Turner first saw Norham Castle in 1797 during his first tour of northern Britain. After his visit Turner exhibited a watercolour of the castle at sunrise, with lines from James Thomson's poem 'The Seasons'. He repeated this several times culminating in this late canvas. This is one of 21 canvases which was exhibited at the Tate in 1906, which helped change perceptions of Turner's later work.

Venice, the Piazzetta with the Ceremony of the Doge Marrying the Sea, 1835 (oil on mahogany)

Although Turner left this painting unfinished, it is easy to imagine how he would have finished it. The top half of the Doge's palace and the Campanile of St. Marco are recognisable. Among the figures in the foreground on the left is the Doge, depicted in the act of wedding the sea through the ritualised gift of a gold ring. The ceremony actually happened out on the Lagoon, and had ceased to take place by Turner's time, which implies that he intended the picture to be of an historical subject.

A Sail Boat at Rouen, 1827-28

This sky and gondola-like boat on the left perhaps indicate that the scene is Italian.

Claudian Harbour Scene: Study for 'Dido Directing the Equipment of the Fleet', 1826-7

This study represents an intermediate stage in the development of a large painting which now is sadly a wreck.

Music Party, East Cowes Castle, 1835

This unfinished study shows a group of costumed figures playing or languidly listening to music in an elegant interior. The sparkle and light of the fabrics were perhaps intended to evoke the shimmer of Watteau.

Brighton Beach, with the Chain Pier in the Distance, from the West, 1827, 1843 (oil on canvas)

This composition is remarkably similar to Constable's view of Brighton, even down to the position of the red sail. Turner would have seen Constable's painting at the Royal Academy in 1827 and was deliberately addressing Constable's achievement. He abandoned this image before resolving it, only taking it up in the 1840s to rework the sky. One anecdote reveals that he resented Constable's encroachement on subject matter he considered his own. He is supposed to have remarked: 'what does he know of boats?'

Sunrise with Sea Monsters, 1845 (oil on canvas)

Although this unfinished painting has come to be known as Sunrise with Sea Monsters, the obscure pink shape at the lower centre of the canvas probably depicts fish; indeed a red and white float and part of a net can be seen nearby. The subject of fishing was of interest to Turner throughout his career as were remarkable sunrises and sunsets such as the dawn depicted here.