Posts Tagged ‘London’

One Really Big Fire; A Lifetime Passion!

December 19, 2017

The Burning of the Houses of Parliament, from the River 1834 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851.jpg

The Burning of the Houses of Parliament, from the River                                                                       Joseph Mallord William Turner, watercolor on paper, 1834

Sometimes I forget how much I enjoy looking at the watercolors and watercolor sketches of Joseph Mallord William Turner.

Ely Cathedral, The Western Tower Seen from the South East, Joseph Mallord William Turner,1794.jpg

And what I love about his work is the process and progress of his painting over the span of his decades as an artist; the nearly radical simplification and experimentation that he undertook that seems to have been a passion.  I’m especially drawn to his sketches using watercolor and other media on paper; it is those that I want to share with you here.

William Turner Drawings.jpg


At the beginning of his career, Turner made meticulous drawings, usually with graphite, and laid in multiple layers of transparent or translucent color to create images portraying not only light and dark values but evocations of depth, mass, and texture. As you can see to the right, his early color choices were typical of the English School of the time. Turner used a cool transparent blue and an earthy orange that would produce a natural grey tone when overlaid on each other. Only at the end would he add just a few touches of more vibrant color.

Below, in this next apparently unfinished piece that he painted in Oxford, you can see just how these opposing tones create a grey.

Joseph Mallord William Turner, Oxf, St Mary's and the Radcliffe Camera from Oriel Lane.jpg

It was a tone Turner used as the basis for much of the image’s structure. This is not far off the method used by earlier artists … from Jan van Eyck to Holbein … a grisaille underpainting with layers of ever stronger clear color glazing and a touch or two of possible semi-opaque or opaque color at the very end.

As Turner matured, we can see that he became surer and surer of using more direct modulation of color. He still often began the sketches with graphite line work, but even those marks, as well as much of the subsequent brushwork, became less and less purely definitive of physical detail; ever freer and more expressive of visual and emotional experience.

Artwork page for ‘Heidelberg Castle from the Hirschgasse’, Joseph Mallord William Turner, 1844.jpg

Above we have again have an unfinished piece. Notice how both lines and color marks, while very much related to the things, the physical phenomenons, that they record, these marks a not as physically precise. Instead they are more spare and simple, leaving more room for the artist and eventually the viewer to complete the intent of the image.
‘Shields Lighthouse’, Joseph Mallord William Turner, c.1823-6.jpg

We can see in this late (1823) sketch of a coastline with a lighthouse, the now bolder, even rougher use of brushwork.  And as his career continued he even achieves an a nearly incorporeal quality, images were composed only of the shaped wavelengths of light we call color.


I was recently reminded of all this when a recent article came across my desktop. That e-article highlighted five of my all time favorite artists (I admit to having at least a top 25, maybe more). Each of these is a painter who

turner, "Norham Castle, sunrise”.jpgworked on easel paintings as well as aqueous media on paper. The problem was that, while the it was well written and talked about the specific paintings of these five near heroes of mine, it only showed the works of four of them. The author wrote about Turner’s watercolor sketches of the burning Houses of Parliament, but omitted any example of those pieces. Ouch!



The Burning of the Houses of Parliament                                                                                                            J.M.W. Turner, watercolor, 1834

So, I guess this is my visual form of a rant of sorts; sharing the images they might have included in the e-article (the first and last images in this blog) … and a few more to boot.

Here’s hoping you enjoy them.

Realism … in Drawing; Life and Politics too

October 28, 2013

Daumier was, for me at least, an acquired taste.

But having acquired the taste, I am now addicted. I would liken it to the taste of dark chocolate or smell of grinding freshly roasted coffee.

His line is so very descriptive; endlessly darting about the subject suggesting form and movement. Gesture drawing dominates the look of the drawn line; here and there alighting just for an instant to describe the physical reality Lunch in the Country (c. 1868) by Honore Daumier, part of the Visions of Paris exhibitionwe sense more than see. His drawing is so unlike some of the other masters of line from France around his time … excellent draughtsmen such as Ingres, Gerome, Prud’hon, and Degas.

Daumier was part of the French wing of the Realist movement in the early 19th century. He worked pretty prolifically in painting and drawing. His work in wax sculpture is not as well known but is quite exciting if a bit enigmatic. What he is perhaps best known for is his drawings on lithographic stone for newspaper illustrations and political cartoons.

I said that his drawing was different from his more well known contemporaries and near-contemporaries. So are his subjects. He depicts working class folks with generosity and compassion. He pokes a little fun at middle class folk when they key-55-24700seem pretentious. He really skewers the aristocrats and the arrogant wielders of cultural, political, and economic power mercilessly … especially so in his lithographic cartoons. More than once, he got himself into a bit of political trouble; especially so his famous print The Rue Transnonain from 1834 helped fuel political demonstrations and riots.

Daumier was well respected then by his realist contemporaries like Courbet, many of his works were smaller, more intimately scaled … and often more intimate in their conception as well. Because of that, his work may have overlooked when displayed in the lavish Salons Exhibitions of the day.

As an artist, I certainly like Daumier on many levels. I love his active use of line to describe form in movement. His pictorial design, while looking grounded in very 19th century concepts about picture making (at least to my eyes) has an immediacy and a rawness that presages much of the “in-your-face” strategies of contemporary work. There can be no denying that Daumier’s content isn’t compelling and forceful or intimate and nuanced by turns. But there is one subject in his work that I have to admit really gets my attention. It isn’t the thing he is most widely admired for either. To some, it may seem just a little to arcane, a little to precious a subject.

I really love the prints and paintings of folks perusing the folios in print shops. Daumier, who made a lot key-15-new-24696of his professional career
selling prints, must have seen these folks regularly. He needed them. They where one of his major clientele. At times he makes fun of some for their snooty or dandified attitudes. A few look like terribly disengaged shoppers, as though they just don’t see anything they like at all. Others, he really captures their rapt attention or curiosity. Whatever he thinks of the individuals depicted amongst the displays and racks of prints, they almost always seem very human. I suspect Daumier was too.

Well there is a new show of Daumier’s work that has just opened at Royal Academy in London. Apparently there are some art works that have not been seen outside of private collections in almost 200 years. If you would like a little more info about that show, I suggest taking a look at the blog listed below.

If, on the other hand, you can’t make it to London and you want to see the most notorious print by Daumier you don’t have to go that far. A wonderful example of Daumier’s Rue Transnonain (1934) is on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC.

A great show of Mughal and Persian miniatures .. in DC

August 13, 2012

I have a real love for what most of us call Persian miniatures. Whether we are talking about are Mughal, Timurid, or Safavid paintings … I am intriqued. Opaque watercolors that, besides their sumptuous surfaces, rich patterns and intricate naturalistic details … show glorious hints of both European and Chinese visual culture. There is always a wonderful exhibition of these works in London (especially at the Victoria and Albert Museums), but only for the next 5 weeks, Washington DC’s Sackler Gallery has one too!


Detail, a representation of the allegorical meeting of the Mughal Emperor Jahangir and Shah Abbas of Persia

The Jolly Good News

The Mughal Emperor Akbar probably would be pleased with the curators at Washington’s Sackler Gallery.  The exhibit “Worlds Within Worlds: Imperial Paintings from India and Iran” shows the gallery’s love of painting, particularly the finely-detailed works commissioned by Akbar, his son Jahangir, and his grandson Shah Jahan – the builder of the Taj Mahal.

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9 Reasons why …

August 20, 2011

… the 20th century watercolours at the Tate show in London were so marvelous!

  1.  Because there were so many works I had NEVER seen before. I     had seen other works by these artists … but not these pieces. That was such a treat.  The artist that struck me first that fits into this category is Charles Rennie Mackintosh.  His work titled Fetges from 1927 caught me off-guard.  I am not sure that I think it is a show stopper … but its careful and elegant  execution was superb. It was wonderful, not so much as in Matisse’s “art like good arm chair.” Rather , a better analogy would be, that it is like  an excellent bottle of wine, delicious and quietly exhilarating … and, yes, a little intoxicating too.

2.   Artists who are completely new to me. (Hey, I AM an American   and I don’t get to see every English watercolor artist or see every review of English work.)   One such artist Eric Ravilous whose work, The Vale of the White Horse, 1939, felt like a kindred spirit to the paintings of Charles Burchfield … at once romantic and yet completely modern.

3.  While it is not pleasurable to look at the                         devastation and depravities of war, it was good to see an artist use this medium, which is so often mistakenly associated with mundane imagery, pretty pictures, and wimpier children’s illustration (no slight intended to my illustrator daughter there … she uses watercolor and isn’t wimpy at all), to take on a subject such gravity and which is so much the antithesis of those aesthetics. While Eric Taylor’s piece, Human Wreckage at Belsen Concentration Camp, sometimes reminds me a bit to much of Henry Moore’s series done in the Tube during WWII, it is still a wonderful piece.

4.  There are dozens of works that caught my eye or  made me wonder at the technique, the vision, or the ideas of the artist.  One of the best of the 20th century pieces in that vein is Valley and River, Northumberland, 1972, by Edward Burra.  It is quite simple and straight forward; almost childlike in it’s unabashed clarity. Yet something about this piece … with a hillside that seems oddly like it ought to tumble down out of the sky (or at least off the paper) … creates a satisfaction, a sense of rightness or honesty.  Even the rock wall, at first looking almost amateurish (look closely at the blocks), ends up becoming a convincing and sophisticated paint passage.

5.    For 5, 6, 7, & 8 too, I think I will let the pictures speak for themselves.




9   Well, this last one may be a bit off target.  The artist is really not so much a twentieth century painter even though this painting was executed in the early years of the century.  He is the American expatriate who made his living in England and whose brush must have flashed its way all across the page.  It is not my favorite of his watercolors … but there are not any I know that I would not love to see again and again. This piece is no exception.  Of course I am talking about John Singer Sargent’s painting of Miss Wedgewood and Miss Sargent.                                                               

This show, which closes tomorrow on August  21st was exquisite.  It could have been even more of a block buster; a few more very new works might have made it stronger … as would the exclusion of one or two pieces that stretched the watercolour definition a bit to far afield. But all in all. I am still beaming with joy.

If you need any more persuasion consider viewing this Tate video:

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