If I could find anything blacker than black, I’d use it… J. M. W. Turner


Joseph Mallord William Turner by Joseph Mallord William Turner watercolour, circa 1790 3 3/4 in. x 2 3/4 in. (95 mm x 70 mm) oval Given by William Cosmo Monkhouse to UK National Portrait Gallery

Joseph Mallord William Turner by Joseph Mallord William Turner watercolour, circa 1790 3 3/4 in. x 2 3/4 in. (95 mm x 70 mm) oval Given by William Cosmo Monkhouse to UK National Portrait Gallery

It may be because he is among our favorite artists and that may be because so much of his art has to do with the sea that we so enjoyed this biography of Joseph Mallord William Turner. Working in an age when it seems that the logical progression was draftsman, illustrator and then artist his work is imbued with the easy quality of determining WHAT it was that he was painting and from appreciating the skill with which he did that the viewer is able to go on and appreciate the way in which he gave meaning to his subject.

There are people who proclaim that the only art is abstract art – more accurately non-representative unintelligible presentations –  which is somehow akin to saying that the only great literature is gibberish. While we  recognize that great artists from Michelangelo to Turner to today have art that approaches abstraction it is neither non-representative nor unintelligible. We  don’t accuse the modern abstract artist of being decadent – that requires a mens rea to introduce blasphemous content that most of them lack – they, and their modern cohorts, seem to have an almost autistic problem in communicating their subject which often seems like it was produced by someone afflicted by both ADHD and St. Vitus Dance.

The Passage of Mount St Gothard from the centre of Teufels Broch (Devil’s Bridge)1804 Watercolour, with scraping out, on paper 101 x 68cm

The Passage of Mount St Gothard from the centre of Teufels Broch (Devil’s Bridge)1804 Watercolour, with scraping out, on paper 101 x 68cm

Turn the pages of this book, go to any museum with a Turner on exhibit and treat yourself to a handful of coffee table books featuring his work and you will be the richer for the experience.

Turner New York: Random House, 2003 James Hamilton Painters England Biography, Turner, J. M. W. (Joseph Mallord William), 1775-1851 Hardcover. Originally published: London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1997. 1st U.S. ed., later printing. xxv, 461 p.: ill. 24 cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, under lining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

J.M.W. Turner was a painter whose treatment of light put him squarely in the pantheon of the world’s preeminent artists, but his character was a tangle of fascinating contradictions. While he could be coarse and rude, manipulative, ill-mannered, and inarticulate, he was also generous, questioning, and humane, and he displayed through his work a hitherto unrecognized optimism about the course of human progress. With two illegitimate daughters and several mistresses whom Turner made a career of not including in his public life, the painter was also known for his entrepreneurial cunning, demanding and receiving the highest prices for his work.

Petworth, Sussex, the Seat of the Earl of Egremont: Dewy morning 1810

Petworth, Sussex, the Seat of the Earl of Egremont: Dewy morning 1810

Over the course of sixty years, Turner traveled thousands of miles to seek out the landscapes of England and Europe. He was drawn overwhelmingly to coasts, to the electrifying rub of the land with the sea, and he regularly observed their union from the cliff, the beach, the pier, or from a small boat. Fueled by his prodigious talent, Turner revealed to himself and others the personality of the British and European landscapes and the moods of the surrounding seas. He kept no diary, but his many sketchbooks are intensely autobiographical, giving clues to his techniques, his itineraries, his income and expenditures, and his struggle to master the theories of perspective.

'The Wreck Buoy', Joseph Mallord William Turner, 1849 - The art critic John Ruskin, a great admirer of Turner, described this as ‘the last oil he painted before his noble hand forgot its cunning’. It is a re-working of an earlier picture and a summation of Turner’s concern with the sea. The artist’s  view of human endeavour and of hope is symbolised by the rainbow and the wreck buoy beneath it.

‘The Wreck Buoy’, Joseph Mallord William Turner, 1849 – The art critic John Ruskin, a great admirer of Turner, described this as ‘the last oil he painted before his noble hand forgot its cunning’. It is a re-working of an earlier picture and a summation of Turner’s concern with the sea. The artist’s view of human endeavour and of hope is symbolised by the rainbow and the wreck buoy beneath it.

In Turner, James Hamilton takes advantage of new material discovered since the 1975 bicentennial celebration of the artist’s birth, paying particular attention to the diary of sketches with which Turner narrated his life. Hamilton’s textured portrait is fully complemented by a sixteen-page illustrations insert, including many color reproductions of Turner’s most famous landscape paintings. Seamlessly blending vibrant biography with astute art criticism, Hamilton writes with energy, style, and erudition to address the contradictions of this great artist.

Joseph Mallord William Turner by Charles West Cope oil on card, circa 1828 6 1/4 in. x 5 1/8 in. (159 mm x 130 mm)Given by the artist's son, Sir Arthur Stockdale to UK National Portrait Gallery

Joseph Mallord William Turner by Charles West Cope oil on card, circa 1828 6 1/4 in. x 5 1/8 in. (159 mm x 130 mm)Given by the artist’s son, Sir Arthur Stockdale to UK National Portrait Gallery

 

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