Thursday, April 10, 2014

Two sides to Turner

Yesterday's post showed one side to Turner's pictures: the stormy scene full of drama. But there was another aspect to him, as he also often painted tranquility with meaning.

The classic example is above, The Fighting Temeraire, shows the old three decker being towed off to be scrapped at the end of its glorious life. This was painted in 1839, many years after the Wreck of the Transport, which is dated from 1810.

The symbolism, with the modern steam tug and the sunset in the background is clear, even if the geometry is suspect (if the tow was up the Medway heading west the sun should be behind the observer). Note also the horizon line at about 20%, giving plenty of room for a sky with sunset, clouds and a new moon.

Seeing the picture in the flesh also made clear other details, such as the way the waters were beautiful still in the foreground but then disturbed by the wake of the steam tug, again highlighting the disruptive nature of change.

Turner was often anti-social and took long walks, and there was clearly time for much thought about how to improve his art, and it is shown in the later more complex structures.

Another example is Keelmen heaving in coals by night, below, from 1835, close in time and feel to The Fighting Temeraire.
Again we have in theory a tranquil, moonlight scene with calm seas.

But the moonlight divides the picture into two unequal parts. The smaller to the left shows tall ships heading out to sea, taking advantage of the tide (visible around the buoys).

The greater half to the right shows coal being loaded, again a sign of modernity. Where as the sailing ships are angelic white heading towards the light, the night works are a fiery red.

Turner would have been in his early 60s for these two pictures and it isn't much of a leap to guess at the psychology involved.

But he wasn't necessarily rejecting modernity, for two of his greatest pictures are from his final years and showed him embracing new techniques.

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