Turner, Monet, Twombly at Tate Liverpool

I’ve been looking forward to this exhibition since it was announced. We went along to see it on Monday and I wasn’t disappointed.

The exhibition, that had previously been shown in Stockholm and Stuttgart, explores the similarities in the late work created by three artists born in three different Centuries – J.M.W. Turner (1775–1851), Claude Monet (1840–1926) and Cy Twombly (1928–2011). The curator has grouped the pictures in themes, attempting to show the connections and similarities between the later works of the three artists.

According to the exhibition guide

In seven themes Turner, Monet and Twombly are brought together, not in competition, but as a means to explore the ways in which artists share interests, values and preoccupations.

Through the juxtaposition of their work, the exhibition also aims to underline the modernity and undiminished relevance of Turner’s and Monet’s work while simultaneously revealing the strong classical traits in Twombly’s paintings and sculptures.

It’s quite pricey to get in – the entrance fee is £12 – but this is why we decided to join the Tate. It means we can go and revisit before it finishes at the end of October.

As usual, photography was not permitted, but there’s an interesting video produced by the Tate about the exhibition on Youtube.

There’s also a video on the Liverpool Daily Post website where Tate’s Assistant Curator, Eleanor Clayton, discusses the exhibition.

It was Monet and the other Impressionists that first sparked my interest in Art and although I initially was attracted to his earlier figurative paintings, I soon began to appreciate the works he produced later in his life from his house and garden in Giverney, especially the water lilies (Nymphéas) displayed at the Musée Marmottan and Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris.

The Tate exhibition includes five of Monet’s water lily paintings, displayed in the final room of the exhibition, including one owned by the National Gallery and two which have never been seen in Britain before.

In the National Gallery’s picture the forms of the water lilies are hard to make out. Like the other vegetation and reflections in the water their shapes are hard to distinguish and the picture is a mass of colours that blend into each other.

I guess I’ve been spoiled by having visited the Musée de l’Orangerie as their display of Nymphéas in their special gallery are nothing short of breath taking. But the water lily paintings on display in Liverpool are certainly worth seeing as are his other works in the exhibition, including paintings of Rouen Cathedral, the Thames, the Houses of Parliament and other scenes from his garden and the Normandy coast and countryside.

Turner is another favourite artist who was, to my mind, way ahead of his time. Although he painted traditional Romantic landscapes and mythological works, it is clear that his real interest was in the effects created by light and stormy seas. To me many of his works are pure abstract with swirling patterns of colour. In many cases, even where people, buildings and other features are present they are indistinct and hard to make out.

Before visiting the exhibition I didn’t know much about Cy Twombly other than what I read in the obituaries when he died last year, and I don’t recall seeing any of his works previously. As much as I enjoyed viewing the Turners and Monets, one of the highlights of our visit was discovering Twombly’s work. It’s always good to see old favourites (and works not previously seen created by favourite artists), but it’s even better to discover, and enjoy, work by an artist I’ve not really encountered before.

Twombly was a pure abstract artist: in the pictures on display there was no attempt to portray “real” objects. He used bright colours in many of the works on display with swirling patterns which reminded me of Turner’s approach. His Quattro Stagioni: (1993-5) is a series of four paintings representing the seasons. His interest in change and the passage of time is reminiscent of Monet who painted several series showing changes that occur during the day or over days, weeks and months – his paintings of Rouen Cathedral and his haystacks, for example.

I think the exhibition is successful in it’s aim to show the connections. But there are many differences too. All three artists were extremely accomplished but  both Turner and Monet’s work was, in many ways, revolutionary and I’m not sure whether the same can be said of Twombly. Time will tell.

11 thoughts on “Turner, Monet, Twombly at Tate Liverpool

  1. Pingback: Helen of Troy | Down by the Dougie

  2. I am very envious as I really wanted to see this exhibition, but Liverpool is quite a way from Leamington and such a trip needs organising, rather than going on the spur of the moment.

    I will have to research Twombly as, like you, I do not know much about him.

    • We only live less than an hour by car or train from Liverpool. We’re quite lucky having the Tate there as they show some good exhibitions. We took out a membership as they charge for the temporary exhibitions (£12 for the cuurent one) and I often like to go back for a second look.

      Liverpool is a good city for the arts, with plenty going on.

  3. I liked the concluding paragraph of Andrew Graham-Dixon’s review in the Sunday Torygraph: “To achieve their ambitions [Monet and Turner] removed narrative from art altogether, and turned it towards the light. To achieve his ambition, [Twombly] went straight back to the infernal storytelling they had regarded with such horror. Twombly is the most modern of the three, yet also the most old-fashioned.”

    • An interesting point. I quite like Andrew Graham-Dixon, at least what I’ve seen of him on the TV. I’m not knowledgable enough to contradict him but I’m not entirely sure I’d agree based on what I saw. I guess I’ll have to read his review (even if it is in the Torygraph!)

      • The name Torygraph was given to the publication by a very dear friend of ours who, despite having lived for most of her life in Leeds still regards herself as a Wiganer. Must be the pies! She herself reads the Grauniad.

      • I’m a “Guardianista” myself. Not that many of us in Wigan!

        Reminds me of a story of someone I knew who moved to Chorley, where the local paper is the Chorley Guarian. He went into the local newsagents and asked if they had a copy of the Guardian. The newsagent replied. “sorry, lad, it doesn’t come out till Thursday”

        Less of a problem in Wigan where the local paper is the Wigan Observer. But on a Sunday …….!

  4. Hi ms6282, (I wish I had a name to put to this). I very much enjoyed this blog feature on the exhibition and agree with most of what you said. I think Turner comes out the strongest artist, followed by Monet. I know the exhibition was put together to show links with all three artists, but in the end I think the link with Twombly is very tenuous and to me this is confirmed when I look at his work against Turner or Monet. It doesn’t hold up. In 2005 there was a show with Monet, Turner and Whistler at the Tate which made more sense. If you had a choice which other artist would you choose to join the masters? Regards Sean (painter)
    I would like to share your article on this on my FB page.
    My website is http://www.seanmccannfineart.com

  5. Hi Sean

    Thanks for your comments. You’re welcome to share the post

    I can’r claim to be an expert on art – It’s an interest and I’m learning. But I agree that the links between the artists are, perhaps, being stretched. To me there are similarities in the way Turner and Monet take a scene and create an almost abstract “impression” rather than a pure realistic view. I don’t know much about Twombley (as I mention in the post), but, to me, the paintings in the exhibition didn’t do that – in fact in some cases it seemed he started with the abstract and tried to link it to the subject rather than the reverse, Twombley’s paintings could, perhaps, be seen as a continuation of a tradition started by Turner and followed on by Monet? In November 2009 I saw Maggie Hambling’s sea pictures at the Lowry in Salford and I though t that they were very reminiscent of Turner and Monet’s seascapes.

    But, as I’ve said, I’m no expert, so I could be completely wrong!

    I can certainly see a much clearer link between Whistler’s “Nocturne” landscapes and Turner and Monet. But I think he treads his own path too. I visited the Hunterian in Glasgow last year where they have a large number of his paintings, and, I have to say, I was disappointed with the dull and muddy portraits – very unlike the bright colours used by Monet and the antithesis of Turner’s fascination with light.


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