I saw the purpose of this exhibition visit as a way of progressing forwards from the exercise Establishing Landscape Conventions and perhaps as a way of myself photographing within the framework of the sublime aesthetic mood.
It was very interesting to see the presence of trees, small figures in the foreground and an expansive sky, typical of some of his influences (Claude Lorrain). However, he exploited the potential of such subjects to create to create contemplative themes, derived from connotations (still based upon historical events) but with intentions for present arguments.
The composition and framing of ‘Story of Apollo and Daphne’, exhibited 1837, typified for me a seemingly picturesque setting but where a story is present behind the scene, which the composition hints at. In this case, the figures in the foreground are most prominent, because of the rolling diagonal lines, which start with these people.
Nature appears to wreak havoc/be more powerful than the figures present in a lot of Turner’s work, particularly seas, where the sea wraps around these figures/man-made objects (boats for example) in a overwhelming/sublime way. Two, most notable paintings containing this trait for me were: ‘The Wreck Buoy’ – c.1807, reworked and exhibited 1849 and the famous ‘Snow Storm – Steam Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth’ – exhibited 1842. The waves and sky circle the subjects menacingly, so that the subjects look out of control. The contrasts of light and dark add to this sense of disempowerment.
There always seemed to be a sublime component evident in each painting but it varied; either the foreground or background exhibited this sublimity – perhaps in relation to what Turner was trying to convey. For example, ‘Burning of the House of Lords and Commons’ 1835 had an obvious sublime element in the distance; namely the burning buildings, whereas ‘Rain, Steam and Speed – the Great Western Railway’, exhibited, in 1844 showed a (for me) demonic-looking train in the foreground. As well as this, the strong diagonal line cutting through the countryside added to the ominousness of the onrushing and sublime train.
Turner’s later works (from 1840) showed an even more adventurous approach, through ‘squaring the circle’, introducing more colour and abstracting further parts of the frame. Of these ‘Squaring the Circle’ set, the pair that struck me the most were ‘Shade and Darkness’ – exhibited 1843 and ‘Light and Colour (Goethe’s Theory) – the Morning after the Deluge – Moses Writing the Book of Genesis’ – exhibited 1843. Here, both used ‘spinning, vertical compositions’, which I felt worked particularly well with the square frames, the squares and circles offsetting each other. This made the viewer’s eye not sure where to wander because of the imbalance created by the use of colour and composition.
In contrast to the ‘Squaring the Circle’ room, there was shown a much more pastel-based choice of colour for the ‘That Real Sea Feeling’ room. This choice of colour I thought was used by Turner to reflect the mood he wanted to convey of the various sea paintings on display. This mood I deemed melancholy and ominous. I found this surprising as, while he found the sea enjoyable and relaxing – ‘enjoying the restorative ‘fresh air’ of the sea’, whenever he painted it, invariably was in a foreboding way – ‘turning the sea into a theatre for drama and effect.’ He did this through the (large) scale of the waves, the ominous-looking colours and the (small) scale of any figures or objects (ships) present in contrast to the size of the sea.
The same pastel colour choice is present in much of his ‘Last Works’. Some of the scenes are similar to earlier works but often lacking distant figures. One painting which stood out for me though, was ‘Lake of Zug’ 1843. The colours were more saturated, many figures were present and the expansive sky, I felt was beautifully complemented by the vast lake.
‘The Dogano, San Giorgio, Citella, from the Steps of the Europa’ – exhibited 1842, showed incredible detail, contrasted with the dreamy, expansive sky but complemented by the staccato, strictly vertical lines of the reflections. The busy canal though held the important secrets of symbolising the wealth of trade in Venice at that time. This was depicted by the various grand buildings beside the canal and cleverly by the non-obvious detail in the foreground of pots containing luxury goods – a connotation of wealth.
Turner’s pronounced use of buildings in some paintings; notably the paired paintings: ‘Modern Rome – Campo Vaccino’ – exhibited 1839 and ‘Ancient Rome – Agrippina Landing with the Ashes of Germanicus’ – exhibited 1839 – interested me greatly. This was mostly because I observed buildings were present in the lower two-thirds of the frame, with the sky dominating the upper third. The amount of detail present in the foreground helped to tell a story in both these paintings. This was similar to what I had envisaged for my assignment, where the foreground was pronounced and the sky took a subordinate role. It was how the buildings/figures in the foreground told a story that I felt I could learn from; especially how the various elements were placed compositionally.
My final impressions of the exhibition was that stories could be told (and made to be very powerfully told stories), through composition chiefly; something Turner exploited well and usually in a sublime manner.
Turner, J. (1807). The Wreck Buoy. [Oil on Canvas] Liverpool: Walker Art Gallery.
Turner, J. (1835). The Burning of the House of Lords and Commons, 16th October 1834. [Oil on Canvas] Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Turner, J. (1837). Story of Apollo and Daphne. [Oil on Wood] London: Tate.
Turner, J. (1839). Ancient Rome; Agrippina Landing with the Ashes of Germanicus. [Oil on Canvas] London: Tate.
Turner, J. (1839). Modern Rome – Campo Vaccino. [Oil on Canvas] Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum.
Turner, J. (1842). Snow Storm – Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth. [Oil on Canvas] London: Tate.
Turner, J. (1842). The Dogano, San Giorgio, Citella, from the Steps of the Europa. [Oil on Canvas] London: Tate.
Turner, J. (1843). Light and Colour (Goethe’s Theory) – the Morning after the Deluge – Moses Writing the Book of Genesis. [Oil on Canvas] London: Tate.
Turner, J. (1843). Shade and Darkness – the Evening of the Deluge. [Oil on Canvas] London: Tate.
Turner, J. (1843). The Lake of Zug. [Mezzotint on paper] London: Tate.
Turner, J. (1844). Rain, Steam, and Speed – The Great Western Railway. [Oil on Canvas] London: The National Gallery.