Turner, Monet, Twombly: An Unlikely Trio

1700s, 1800s, 1900s. British, French, American. Romanticism, Impressionism, Symbolism. Looking at these stats, one might wonder what J.M.W. Turner, Claude Monet, and Cy Twombly have in common. Frankly, I’m still trying to work it out for myself.

Through the bulk of each of these artists’ careers, it is quite clear that their works have very little to absolutely nothing in common, causing one to wonder how on earth they’ve been grouped together in the first place. However, if you focus on the last twenty or so odd years of each other their lives, I suppose it is possible to see that Turner’s work slowly morphed into Impressionism, whether he intended it that way or not. While Twombly’s works, especially Blooming, delve into Impressionism with a focus on nature, clearly Monet’s forte.

Take these two paintings for example. I suppose one could, with their eyes crossed and squinting, relate Turner’s Rio San Luca to Monet’s San Giorgio (below).

J.M.W. Turner, The Rio San Luca alongside the Palazzo Grimani, with the Church of San Luca, c. 1840.
Gouache, pencil and watercolour on paper, 19.1 x 28.1 cm.
The Tate Gallery, London.
Claude Monet, San Giorgio Maggiore, 1908.
Oil on canvas, 59.2 x 81.2 cm.
National Museum Wales, Cardiff.

And maybe, one could close their left eye while squinting with the right and see the similarities Twombly has to offer, as in his Seasons collection:

Cy Twombly, Quattro Stagioni: Inverno, 1993-1994.
Acrylic, oil, and pencil on canvas, 322.9 x 230 cm.
The Tate Gallery, London.

If you ask me, Twombly should consider himself quite lucky to be grouped with such influential artists, while Turner and Monet should be questioning how this came to be and perhaps looking to sue on the grounds of libel, slander, and defamation. What do you think? Am I the crazy one?

Compare and contrast the works of these prolific artists at Tate Liverpool’s exhibition: Turner Monet Twombly: Later Paintings, on until 28 October 2012. Also, admire the works of Monet and Turner at home with these beautifully illustrated books on their lives and works Turner and Monet, both available in print and ebook format.

-Le Lorrain Andrews


So Peculiarly English: topographical watercolours

So peculiarly English…. a label I just can’t seem to shake off. But what is it that makes me and fifty million others so English, and so peculiar? I love the great stereotypes of England and its mad inhabitants, with our tea-drinking, cheese-rolling, queue-respecting and morris dancing. So how disappointed must I have been when I saw that the V&A, in order to celebrate Englishness, has put on an exhibition dedicated to English watercolour painting?

English watercolours are not peculiar in any way, shape or form. In fact, they are the opposite, the very essence of banality. The only peculiar thing about them is that the English were the only ones to bother with them, and that they insisted on doing it for so long.

Not only that, but topographical landscapes, so you can see the English countryside in all its… dreariness. Early topographical watercolours, writes Bruce MacEvoy, were “primarily used as an objective record of an actual place in an era before photography”; as land surveillance maps, for military strategy (to help us out with our colonising), for the mega-rich to show off their wealthy estates (built in all probability with money from the slave trade), and for archaeological digs, for when we wanted to have a record of whose lands we had already pillaged. Doesn’t it feel great to be English?

John Constable, Stonehenge, 1835. Watercolour on paper, 38.7 x 59.7 cm. Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

When we weren’t painting watercolours to celebrate our upper classes’ moral ineptitude, we were depicting scenes of England’s lush greenery, her rolling hills, picturesque villages and rocky coastline. Or rather, Turner, Constable and Gainsborough were. People can’t get enough of their tedious seascapes and landscapes, as if they’ve never seen a tree or a rock before in their lives. The only redeeming feature of Turner is that apparently he once had himself “tied to the mast of a ship in order to experience the drama” of the elements during a storm at sea, which a great example of English eccentricity right there.

J.M.W. Turner, Warkworth Castle, Northumberland – thunder storm approaching at sunset, 1799.
Watercolour on white paper, 52.1 x 74.9 cm. Victoria and Albert Museum, London, U.K.

Forget the 427 identical paintings of abbeys and vales, heaths and lakes; I’d rather see something truly peculiar, like a painting of Turner tied to a mast of a sinking ship. Then, and only then, would I come to your watercolour exhibition.

If, unlike me, you have a great love for the topographical landscapists of yore, get down to the V&A for their exhibition ‘So Peculiarly English: topographical watercolours’ (from the 7th June 2012 – 1st March 2013). Read up on a classic English painter before (or after) your visit with this Turner ebook, or find more art you’ll love on the Ebook-Gallery.