A place for reflection and introspection, communication and thoughtful conversation.
Saturday, 11 July 2009
ART SUNDAY - TURNER AND THE END OF AN ERA
“As contraries are known by contraries, so is the delight of presence best known by the torments of absence.” - Alcibiades
For my last Art Sunday blog on Yahoo 360, a painting by J.M.W. Turner, “The Fighting Temeraire” of 1838. It is displayed in the National Gallery in London, and shows the last ship from Admiral Nelson’s force at Trafalgar. It rises ghost-like, but still majestic, on the left of the canvas, and is shown being towed towards its final berth in East London in 1838 to be broken up for scrap. It is being passed by a steamboat. The painting shows the end of the sailing era and the beginning of the steam era. The old ship rises ethereally and elegantly above the water on a background of mist and blue sky, while the steamboat, dark and solid, hugs the water and pollutes the air above it with clouds of smoke. One technology is coming to an end, and another is beginning. The painting illustrates change, the only constant thing in this world.
On the right, close to the horizon is the sun, which may be setting or may be rising, depending on which boat you are travelling on. High up on the left is the moon, waxing or waning, once again depending on your perspective. One may look back or forward, may embrace change and make the best of it, or else may stick with things that have passed and be, in time, an amusing anachronism.
There is a strong sense of nostalgia and loss in the painting. Turner is thought to have represented here the decline of Britain’s naval power, so for him it is definitely a waning moon above the sunset and hence the ethereal sailing ship rising wraith-like above the waters, evoking the glorious past. Turner was in his sixties when he painted this canvas and his mastery of the medium and the artistry of colour usage is manifest. Sea and sky are rendered in paint laid on thickly and the essence of the light of the sun’s rays striking the clouds is beautifully done. The ship's rigging is meticulously painted, by contrast, in thinner and carefully applied colour.
When this painting was first exhibited, a London reviewer by the name of William Makepeace Thackeray wrote the following about Turner’s painting: “It is absurd to grow so politically enthusiastic about a four foot canvas, representing a ship, a steamer, a river and a sunset. But herein lies the power of the great artist. He makes you see and think of a great deal more than the object before you; he knows how to soothe or intoxicate, to fire or depress, by a few notes, or forms, or colours, of which we cannot trace the effects to the source, but acknowledge the power.”
Goodbye to everyone on Yahoo 360, see you at Google’s blogger, where I can be found here:
I have been blogging daily on this platform for several years now. It is surprising that I have persisted as the world is changing and "microblogging" is now the norm. I blog to amuse myself, make comment on current affairs, externalise some of my creativity, keep notes on things that interest me, learn something new and to surprise myself with things that I discover about this wonderful, and sometimes crazy, world we live in.
I sometimes get the impression that I am on a soapbox delivering a monologue, so your comments are welcome.