Wednesday, 1 April 2009


I've been kinda excited about this exhibition for the last couple of weeks - and yes, it was definitely worth the wait.

It's a rare, rare event when I am gobsmacked by a painting. Here I was gobsmacked by whole rooms of them. I think the best was catching a glimpse of what was waiting for you in the next room...and being bowled over by the light which seemed to pour out of his paintings.

The sun is God, said Turner famously. Well, Turner himself is certainly its high priest, if you'll excuse my dreadful metaphor. How something over 150 years old can glow with so much light... I'm rhapsodising. I know I am. But they were That Good.

The exhibition ranged over the whole of Turner's life - from initial etchings and sketches before he had ever been to Italy, to the 'white canvas' abstracts of his old age.

So not only did you get classical Italy to 19th century Venice, you also got a range of every style Turner used and a strand of his life from start to finish.

I've always been interested in Turner's watercolours, as one of the few great artists to work in that medium ( I worked almost exclusively in watercolours throughout my twenties, though I am kind of off them right now). But in this case, it wasn't the watercolours which were the interesting pieces, with one or two exceptions. ( none of which I can find online, so you will just have to imagine them. They were off mountain passes and they were fabulous).The stars of this show were undoubtably, however, the oils. They glowed.

They hit you from far off. They got better the closer you moved. And these images do them no justice. ( I didn't bother buying a catalogue, or a guide, because although I wanted one, the images seemed so flat compare to the real thing. I settled for a mediocre postcard).

Interestingly enough, one of the largest pieces was first shown in Edinburgh in 1845. There was a clip from the Scotsman Review of it at the time. It was kind of cool to be standing in the same building, 164 years on, looking at it.

My sister-in-law and I spent barely an hour in there - because it really was quite overwhelming. Ours eyes hurt after half an hour. I can't imagine what it would be like to live with these on your wall ( not sure if anyone does, these days).

Turner was by all accounts arrogant, commercial, mischievous, and shocking. (painting abstracts in the 1850s! the mind boggles). But just..a wonderful, wonderful painter. Go see it when it comes to your city, or go see it now if you are in Edinburgh. Well worth the price of a cinema ticket.


  1. Great post can try scanning pictures of the watercolours....might work...

  2. I'm with you on the adoration of Turner's work. My favourite art work of all time is Decline of Carthage - absolutely beautiful and I still need to get a print of it to put somewhere in the house.