Born in 1775 he showed great talent at an early age. He sold his art before he was even a teenager at his fathers wig making and barber shop. Even then it was of a mature style of an artist many years older. He entered the Royal Academy of Art School at 14 and was accepted by the Royal Academy at 15!
The movie "Mr. Turner" recounts the final years of his life, a time when he was thought to be washed up. Yet in fact, he produced possibly his greatest works. The movie is fascinating and I found confusing in that the director's style is amazingly opaque. You learn about his life, his father, the women he had children by and ultimately the woman he ended up with, in one of the most unusual edits I have ever seen in a film. It can be at times daunting to understand what and who and why these people are here. In fact painting takes a back seat as we learn about the man. One thing that was clear was that he was openly mocked about having too many "seascapes." He cared not.
|The Fighting Temeraire being towed to be broken up|
Landscape painting had its Renaissance during Turner's lifetime. There are several scenes showing the competitions with paintings stacked floor to ceiling with a variety of subjects. You see Constable, who is considered by many to be the father of the modern landscape, working still on a painting he has submitted. Turner by the end of his life had elevated the landscape from a lovely scene to a thing of moods and feelings. You can't help but be moved by the swirl of colors and vague objects. However, he was controversial in his day.
|Fishermen at Sea|
I think his time in Venice showed him clearly the effects of lights and darks that he learned to use effectively. The contrast between the Grand Canal in Venice and his dark brooding "Fishermen at Sea" cannot be ignored. It recalls early Van Gogh paintings that dramatically changed when he went to Paris going from dark moody images to light!
|Eruption of Vesuvius|
Suitable subjects for Turner were the dramatic - catastrophes, shipwrecks, fires, natural events like storms, rain, fog, sunlight and rain. The critic John Ruskin who adored Turner described the artist as one "who most stirringly and truthfully measured the moods of nature."
|Rain, Steam & Speed - The Great Western Railway|
Strangely despite warnings, he used paints that knowingly would fade. He loved Carmine, a red that was brilliant at the time of painting but would fade in his lifetime. Some of his paintings looked washed out because of this. Using his oils like watercolor putting oil wash after wash created etherial effects unlike anyone of his day. In fact his work is considered by many to have influenced the French Impressionists, particularly Claude Monet who studied his works extensively.
There can be no doubt that Turner knew how to set a mood. It developed over the years from nearly perfect architectural renderings to an increasingly impressionistic style that would soon become, in France, Impressionism. Mocked in life, Turner is now seen as a kind of liberator in art. The camera had been developed and there is a scene in the movie that is amusing when he has his portrait taken, yet he foresaw, as many didn't, that paintings could express a mood no camera could.
His dying words were "Sun is God." Oh, and what a glorious sun (and moon) he painted!
Turner's lesson to us all is never be afraid of going outside the box. If you feel that what you are trying to express is limited by what is around you, try it anyway. Take the luxury of trying something new, something never done before. It is this daring that continues to move art forward. It is too easy to copy the past. It is not written that you have to follow it however. Good luck!
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