Tuesday, July 15, 2008

"The Painted Veil...Called Life"

This painting was not in the show, but I saw it in London last year at the National Gallery.  It is Turner's The Fighting Temeraire Tugged to Her Last Berth to be Broken Up, 1838.  It shows one of the great naval ships of the Napoleonic Wars, ships that Turner loved since boyhood, being towed to drydock by a steamship to be scrapped.  This painting includes one of the greatest sunsets in all of art.  I've never in my life seen a sunset that looks like this (and at 50, I've seen a lot of them).  It is Turner's great power as an artist that makes me believe in it even though I know better.
Hugh Honour, in his great book on Romantic art, includes these lines from PB Shelley's The Daemon of The World in his discussion of Turner:

If solitude hath ever led thy steps
To the shore of the immeasurable sea,
And thou hast lingered there
Until the sun's broad orb
Seemed resting on the fiery line of ocean,
Thou must have marked the braided webs of gold
That without motion hang
Over the sinking sphere:
Thou must have marked the billowy mountain clouds,
Edged with intolerable radiancy,
Towering like rocks of jet
Above the burning deep:
And yet there is a moment
When the sun's highest point
Peers like a star o'er ocean's western edge,
When those far clouds of feathery purple gleam
Like faery lands girt by some heavenly sea:
Then has thy rapt imagination soared
Where in the midst of all exciting things
The temple of mightiest Daemon stands.


June Butler said...

I've been racking my brain to remember where I've seen Turner paintings recently, and I finally remembered. It was at the Frick Collection, when I was last in New York.

This is a splendid series of posts on Turner, Counterlight. Turner's best paintings come alive with movement and nearly jump out of the frames. At least, that's how I see them. I don't know what the art professor thinks of that. Your students are very fortunate to have you for a teacher.

June Butler said...

The prick who did the Frick website did not allow for a link directly to the Turner page. You have to type Turner into "Search".

Counterlight said...

I never thought about pricks at the Frick.

Since Turners appear to literally glow off the walls sometimes, to my eye anyway, then they do seem to jump off the walls.

Thanks Grandmere. It was a pleasure to write these posts.

June Butler said...

Coulda been a prickette, too, but then, no rhyme.

Can Bass 1 said...

Oh, don't assume they don't exist (the sunsets, that is). We get plenty of them over here!

Anonymous said...

I adore Turner.

Amazing sunsets also occur when the weather is smoggy. In fact, during CA wildfires, you see the most astonishing and scary sunsets...

Regardless, Turner seems so impressionist, for his time. What was the reaction to his work?


Counterlight said...

Turner was both celebrated and reviled. His work was sometimes sensationally popular with crowds packing the galleries to see it. His critical reception was very divided with influential critics taking up both sides. The great critic John Ruskin (who would later be the bitter enemy of James Whistler) was a tireless champion of Turner's work writing eloquent essays about it that are still widely read.
Sometimes, especially in his old age, the critics and public were mystified by his work, "Mr. Turner's little jokes" they called his very daring last paintings.