Turner Monet Twombly: Later Paintings

Turner Monet Twombly: Later Paintings, currently at Tate Liverpool, is an exhibition that not only presents some of the greatest paintings in the history of art, but also enables the visitor to learn so much about the artists, the process of creation and how each was influenced by their later stage . Also, environmental artist Kerry Morrison has worked throughout the summer in Liverpool parks with community events that will culminate with collective sunset viewings in October.

The ”˜later paintings’ element is crucial to the themes examined in the galleries. Despite the fact that the artists careers did not overlap, (Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851, Claude Monet 1840-1926 and Cy Twombly 1928-2011) a fresh perspective on each artist is offered by thoughtful arrangement into seven themes which enables us to see how the three struggle to adjust to the process of aging, loss and sorrow which seem common themes of their late careers. Also, by showing three major artists in one exhibition, Tate Liverpool has ensured that you understand and appreciate the three in isolation, as well as gain an understanding of common areas between them. Today, Turner and Monet are obviously accepted masters, while Twombly may be seen as more challenging by some. However, a major success of the exhibition is that you learn not only how each of the artists were viewed as almost revolutionary and subject to public scorn in their time, but how relevant and modern all three seem today.

One of the key aspects of using a thematic approach is to enable what the exhibition curator, Jeremy Lewison, calls ”˜conversations’ to take place between the artists. It’s as if the exhibition ”˜collapses time’ to enable us to examine whether the same issues, such as the impact of age, preoccupy artists from different ages. Personally, I found this a great help in coming to terms with some of the Twombly works, but it also threw a fresh light on the works of the other two with whom I thought I was more familiar. This is perfectly exemplified with the first theme; ”˜Beauty, Power and Space’ which sees all three artists deal with the power and danger of the sea. Here we see some of the later Turner’s trademark views of threatening seas and shipwrecks including ”˜Light and Colour (Goethe’s Theory) ”“ The Morning after the Deluge-Moses Writing the Book of Genesis’ 1843 where he uses a vortex to invoke an uneasy feel in the viewer.

Light and Colour (Goethe’s Theory) – the Morning after the
Deluge – Moses Writing the Book of Genesis, Turner (1843)

Contrast this particularly with Monet’s ”˜The Sea at Fecamp’ which is a perfect example of his later life choice of dangerous situations in which to paint, in this case from a cliff top to enable him to capture the beauty and wildness of nature. Possibly the greatest success of this room is with the contrast between Turner’s ”˜Hero and Leander’ from 1837, and Twombly’s ”˜Hero and Leandro’ 1981-4. Twombly’s take on the drowning of the mythical Hero indicate his classical influences whilst simultaneously making his paintings more accessible for newcomers like myself. Twombly’s image of still water and use of the closing line from a Keats sonnet become increasingly touching as you refer back to Turner’s work and it is here that the idea of a conversation between the artists really takes off as you view again Monet’s images of the sea.

”˜Atmosphere’ continues the use of themes with images of London by both Turner and Monet seeing Waterloo Bridge obscured by pollution in Turner’s work and fog in Monet’s. Although Monet would not have seen Turner’s work, they both share the approach of only partially revealing the subject of the painting. Turner stated that ”˜atmosphere is my style and indistinctness is my fault’ while Monet believed that ”˜The motif is unimportant to me, what I want to reproduce is what stands between the motif an me’. Use of colour space and light is of more importance to all three artists than a portrayal of accuracy, a point reinforced by Twombly’s ”˜Paesaggio’ of 1986 where he contrasts the effects of light on woodland and water. Monet’s capturing of the morning light on Rouen Cathedral (1894) and The Seine at Giverny (1897) are breathtaking when viewed alongside the other paintings such as Turner’s ”˜Venice with the Salute'(c1840-45) where the viewer sees the image gradually emerge from the painting. This view of Venice is unfinished and therefore could never have been exhibited in Turner’s time.

Fire and Water concentrates on the forces of nature and no other 19th Century artist focused more on sunsets than Turner. He saw the sun as a life-giving force and therefore sunset was a time of fading energy and this is possibly most vividly represented by ”˜Sun Setting Over a Lake c.1840′, and the ”˜conversation’ can be imagined with Monet whose ”˜San Giorgio Maggiore by Twilight’ (1908) was one of the first paintings he worked on after being paralysed by grief at the death of his second wife. These paintings give the perfect context to Twombly’s ”˜Untitled (Sunset)’ (1986) and ”˜Petals of Fire’ (1989) which both can be seen to echo the theme of fading life.

Camino Real (2010) Twombly

The Vital Force sees links drawn between the three artists approach to eroticism and sensuality. Naturally, in Turner’s time, openly erotic painting would never have been exhibited so he used a mythical approach that enabled him to include nudity. Glaucus and Scylla (1841) and Bacchus and Ariadne (1840) are both examples of this and are set alongside Twombly’s Camino Real (2010) and Monet’s ”˜Japanese Bridge’ (1920-22) among others which are generally seen by art historians as examples of the painter’s erotic outlook. There’s no doubt that the familiar images here of Monet and Turner certainly provide a vital context for those, like me, new to Twombly and enable a greater depth of appreciation.

Possibly the most moving of the themes is Naught So Sweet as Melancholy which sees all three artists deal with the passage of time and death. Two sculptures by Twombly of boats which indicate the passing of time and souls being ferried across the Styx. Turner’s ”˜Peace-Burial at Sea’ (1842) is echoes this theme and commemorates the burial at sea of his friend David Wilkie off the coast of Gibraltar whose body had been refused a land burial for fear of contamination from typhoid.





Peace-Burial a Sea (1842) Turner.

The paintings of Venice which had been started by Monet on a visit with his wife were not finished until after her death and therefore must carry an element of his grief.

However, any show must build to a climax and reaching The Seasons is a sure sign that this is no different. Set alongside one of Monet’s series of ”˜Poplars’ (1890’s) Twombly’s Quattro Stagioni continues his theme of nature that is developed throughout the exhibition. Here we see the four seasons hung beginning with Autunno as had been agreed by Twombly not long before his death last year, in order to show the cyclical pattern of life.





Water Lilies 1916-19 Monet.

And so to A Floating World and, as if we didn’t already have enough reasons to visit this outstanding exhibition, five of Monet’s Water Lilies (1916-19) series are shown together in Britain for the first time in a number of years. There is still a debate as to exactly what the paintings represent as Monet insisted he painted nothing but what he could see. However, others argue that at the time he was painting, with the loss of close family and within earshot of guns at the Western Front they must carry some significance about the frailty of our existence and the permanence of nature.

These are set beside two of Turner’s Petworth studies with a sunset which may well echo the previous sentiments about life. Finally, there is Twombly’s superb Untitled (2007) which shows what could be peonies with red and yellow combining to produce a stunning impact that stays with you long after leaving the gallery.

This is an exhibition that offers something for all, from the most dedicated art-lover to those who may be only casually acquainted with some of the works on display. The thoughtful manner in which curator Jeremy Lewison has arranged these amazing works ensures not only will they will live long in the memory, but so will what they tell us about each of the artists and their perspective on life. It is a superb exhibition and well worth a visit.

All words by Dave Jennings. You can read more from Dave on LTW here.

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