Rachel Cohen

Turner

Turner before Monet

Turner before Monet

Joseph Mallord William Turner
The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons
16 October 1834, painted 1835.


In Cleveland for the holidays, M. and I walked through the galleries of the art museum, and stumbled upon Turner’s The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons, 16 October, 1834.

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If I’d seen it before, I’d entirely forgotten.  A painting of great power and intricacy.

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Turner one of those rare colorists who seems, to me, to have control within the color – especially here of red that really burns at the heart of the painting and of the expanding cloud of yellow and white.

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The color has shape and density, symmetry and modulation.  It is not so much that the painting seems to have a geometry as that the color, within itself, does.

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Monet knew Turner’s paintings and his admiration for them was part of his decision to go to London to do his three late series.  One would like to be sure that he had had adequate time with this particular picture, which seems to have a project related in an important way to his own.  Monet set the Houses of Parliament, the Thames before them, and the air above them in such a way that each could be transmuted into the others.  Turner and those with him along the banks of the Thames that night saw this happen.

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The night of the great fire, October 16, 1834, Turner worked all night, up and down the banks of the Thames sketching rapidly in watercolor, which was his habit.  One of these sketches is reproduced in a beautiful called Turner: Les Carnets de Dessins with text by William Gaunt.  Turner’s watercolors, the most wonderful I have ever seen, were his private work, and were not brought before the public until well into the 20th century.  Thus Monet, hurrying up and down the sides of the Thames desperate to catch his evanescent effects, never knew how close a ghostly colleague he had.


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Turner Summer Somber

Turner Summer Somber

J.M.W. Turner, Sunset?, 1830-1835, oil on canvas, The Tate Museum. Photos Rachel Cohen.

It is a bright hot day in August, but, when I settle to think, the mood this morning is somber like the brown below the sky's red line.

Yesterday, I read through some notes I had made to myself in May, and was surprised at the tone I found there, of endurance in the expectation of a clear and soon end. To myself then, we had managed nearly three months; to myself now, I think we were hardly even at the beginning then.

These photos are of a small painting by J.M.W. Turner, probably made between 1830 and 1835, tentatively titled Sunset?

I saw it at the Tate Museum in London on the morning of the Brexit vote.

London was hung about with signs pleading "Remain." Stay a little longer, don't give up yet.