A Turn Around the Turner Exhibition

On Friday, October 30 I had the pleasure of viewing the J.M.W.Turner exhibition, “Painting Set Free” at the Art Gallery of Ontario.

Turner is considered to be one of Britain’s most original artists. His dynamic, amazing watercolours, depicting light and atmosphere in his unique, ground-breaking style sustain his reputation as a great watercolourist, perhaps the greatest.

The Blue Rigi, Sunrise

The Blue Rigi, Sunrise, 1842, watercolour on paper, 29.7 x 45 cm.

The exhibition focuses on the last 15 years of his life, when his output was influenced by his extensive travels and innovative painting techniques. Seeing his art in person brings home the beauty and subtlety of his colours. Many of his paintings seem almost abstract as they capture the barest essence of the scene. I have a much better appreciation of his work after seeing them in person, as reproductions in books and online cannot capture the true beauty.

Light and Colour

Light and Colour (Goethe’s Theory) – The Morning after the Deluge – Moses Writing the Book of Genesis, 1843, oil on canvas, 78.5 × 78.5 cm.

From the AGO website, “Turner was likewise drawn to infinite variations in weather. “Atmosphere,” he once commented, “is my style. Indistinctness is my forte.” Never before had the public confronted such memorable views “of nothing.” As his rival John Constable commented, “He seems to paint with tinted steam, so evanescent and so airy.””

I enjoyed the exhibition immensely, and urge you to attend before it ends on January 31, 2016. At the end, as one is leaving the exhibition, a silhouette of Turner is presented on the wall with a quote, “The only secret I have is damned hard work.” We can’t all be Turner but all artists should take this quote to heart!

Turner's Silhouette

As one exits the exhibition, this life-size silhouette of Turner and quote remind us that while he was certainly an artistic genius, his life-long habit of hard work and dedication to his craft were in no small measure a part of his success. Contemporaries commented on his hard-working habits and continuous devotion to his sketchbook.

If you want an entertaining glimpse into Turner’s life, then I also recommend the 2014 movie, Mr. Turner. If you like action/adventure movies, you’ll go to sleep, but if you like historical accuracy, quiet insight and great acting, then you’ll enjoy it as much as I did.

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