J.M.W. Turner’s poetic visualization of British history

“J.M.W. Turner,”National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. Oct. 1-Jan. 6, 2008. See images of Turner paintings from the National Gallery’s collection.

In the upcomng New Yorker, Simon Schama tells Turner’s story. “When the Houses of Parliament caught fire, on the night of October 16, 1834, Turner, along with a throng of fellow-Londoners, rushed to see the spectacular inferno. Hiring a boat, he bobbed back and forth, riding the tide, at Westminster Bridge. There had been no foul play, but, since a Parliamentary-reform act had been passed just two years before, amid loudly voiced fears that, unless it was legislated, the kingdom might, like France in 1830, go down in bloody revolution, the relationship between rulers and ruled was in perilous play. A dominating feature of the two ‘Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons’ paintings that resulted�one now in Cleveland and one in Philadelphia�is the crowds jamming the embankment and Westminster Bridge, watching, fixedly, the cremation of ‘Old Corruption.'” Read more.

In 1966 the Museum of Modern Art installed �Turner: Imagination and Reality.” Curator Lawrence Gowing spoke with Calvin Tomkins and Geoffrey T. Hellman in The Talk of the Town. �’All but four of the oils were selected from the work Turner did in the last twenty years of his life, in order to show the revolutionary aspect of a period in which he developed a new consistency of painting that eliminated linear draftsmanship and classical composition and glorified light and shade. During this time, he demolished the separate categories of classic and romantic, and so on. The work is very structural, with lots of tension in it. It�s not just a prototype of American abstract painting, as has sometimes been said, though it certainly is that. The situation is much more complex. Although structural, the pictures are very informal and very free at the same time. They reach out into the borderland between representation and the abstract. A unique achievement.'”Read more.

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