The greatest British Painter of all time (yeah, I said it) has a special exhibition of his later works at the Getty Center.
He was a bit of a crank. He allowed his Father to manage his business affairs, and prepare his canvasses until his death (which he was woefully unprepared for). He had an affair with his housemaid, while simultaneously carrying on as the common-law Husband of a woman in a distant town (unbeknownst to everybody). He had two daughters that he denied (and who later contested his will when he wanted to leave his fortune to starving artists)…
…but Joseph Mallord William (J.M.W.) Turner was also the greatest British Painter of them all.
Broad statement, I know. And his contemporaries at the time would have argued that toward his later years he was losing his eyesight. It explained, in their minds, the unfinished quality to so many of his later works.
Like that. It’s not one of the works that blows me away, but like all things, you want to check it out because…well, Turner made it. So why not?
Turner was a man who took yearly trips across Europe to draw, and collect ideas (and apparently wives). He would keep sketchbooks on him or nearby and drew what he saw, he would spend the rest of the year painting from those sketchbooks, and selling the works (as best he could). This is a man who once (allegedly) lashed himself to the mast of a Ship at the height of a storm, just so he could see the colors.
Still, the fruit of that alleged story is here in Los Angeles, and you can see it at the Getty Center right now.
From the Getty Website:
Extraordinarily inventive and enduringly influential, J. M. W. Turner (1775–1851) produced his most important and famous pictures after the age of sixty, in the last fifteen years of his life. Demonstrating ongoing radicalism of technique and ever-original subject matter, these works show Turner constantly challenging his contemporaries while remaining keenly aware of the market for his art.
Bringing together over sixty key oil paintings and watercolors, this major international loan exhibition is the first to focus on the unfettered creativity of Turner’s final years.
The exhibition was organized by Tate Britain in association with the J. Paul Getty Museum and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. It is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and Humanities.
Now, what I’ve said is my view on Turner, mostly shaped by Simon Schama’s documentary The Power of Art, and watching the somewhat disorganized, but beautiful to look at Biopic on his life called Mr. Turner by Mike Leigh.
(Side note: My main problem with the film is that it expects the view to already know Turner’s Biography before the see it. It’s the difference between a film saying “And then this happened” and a film saying “Remember that part, when?”)
The thing that drew me to him was his famous painting The Slave Ship, considered his masterpiece. I mean here was this guy, with all the negative and positive qualities I’ve described, a White guy, painting away in England, creating a piece of art in support of abolitionism (even if it was a mild support of abolitionism), at a time when wasn’t hip to be into it? Blew my mind. The fact that the captured in that piece, the fury, the despair, even the rage of that moment.
See what I mean?
But that’s just me. The rest of you probably only became a little familiar with Turner’s work in (of all places) the James Bond movie Skyfall, where Bond (Daniel Craig) first meets Q (Ben Whishaw). They’re sitting in the British National Museum (I believe) looking at Turner’s The Fighting Temeraire tugged to her last berth to be broken up. Q remarks how sorry he feels for the old ship taken out to pasture at last. (It was supposed to be a dig at Bond, but who cares. Scene was totally cool!)
Great painting. Did it make the trip?
Uh, no. Like The Slave Ship, The Fighting Temeraire tugged to her last berth to be broken up will never leave England…ever. Kinda like the offs of the Statue from the Lincoln Memorial going on tour ‘round the world. Ain’t…gonna…happen.
There’s another treat in there you might want to check out. Turner made two paintings of Rome, one in his younger days, and one in his later. Circumstance split the ownership of these two paintings apart, one was held by the Tate in England, and the other by the Getty. Well, for this exhibition, they have been reunited. The city noticably ages in the time it takes him to make both paintings. Take a moment to check them out.
When we told you this exhibit was coming, we showed you a clip of the “The Power of Art” featuring Turner and the creation of The Slave Ship. It’s definitely worth the hour of your time, and will give you some context heading into the Getty.
J. M. W. Turner: Painting Set Free runs to May 24, 2015 at the Getty Center.
IMPORTANT SAFETY TIP, PEOPLE: Only the usual Getty Rules, as well as the common rules for decent Museum Behavior.
Oh, and there’s no photography allowed in the exhibit. All that means is that the Getty is doesn’t control the rights to these works, and therefore can’t give you permission to photograph them.
Buy one of the books instead. The photography will be better than with your iPhone 6, and you’ll have the added benefit of helping the museum out.
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