Ruskin, Turner and the Storm Cloud

John Ruskin, the noted Victorian Art Critic and Social and Political thinker was born 8th of February 1819. Consequently a number of exhibitions and other events are being held around the country to celebrate the 200th anniversary of his birth. Ruskin spent his last years at Brantwood on the shores of Coniston Water, overlooking the Old Man and the other fells, so had a strong connection with the Lake District. Abbot Hall in Kendal have a strong connection with Ruskin and have a number of his drawings and watercolours in their collection. So, it’s not surprising that in this celebratory year they’re holding an exhibition.  Ruskin, Turner & the Storm Cloud has been produced in partnership with York Art Gallery and University of York and is showing in Kendal from 12 July to 5 October.

Ruskin championed the work of the great British artist JMW Turner, proclaiming him to be ‘the greatest of the age’ and so the exhibition is intended to be

the first in-depth examination of the relationship between both men, their work, and the impact Ruskin had in highlighting climate change.

Abbot Hall website

Our first ever visit to Abbot Hall, way back in April 2012, was to see another exhibition featuring the works of Turner – Turner and his Contemporaries: The Hickman Bacon Watercolour Collection – we’ve been back many times since.

The exhibition includes a large number of paintings and drawings by both Ruskin and Turner, together with some by their contemporaries, and occupies the whole of the first floor of the Gallery.

The curators also commissioned contemporary artist Emma Stibbon to produce some large scale works in response to Ruskin’s concerns about the environment.

In June 2018, Royal Academician Stibbon retraced the steps of Turner and Ruskin visiting the Alps. She took the route made by Ruskin in June 1854 when he produced a series of daguerreotypes (early photographs) of Alpine scenery, to see what remains of the glaciers today.

Her work shows how geography has been impacted by climate change over the last two centuries.

Abbot Hall website

Turner’s paintings are usually nothing short of breathtaking and that was certainly the case with those works – mainly watercolours of British and alpine landscapes – included in the exhibition

JMW Turner, The Passage of Mount St Gothard, Taken from the Centre of the Teufels Broch (Devil’s Bridge), 1804 © Lakeland Arts Trust

Ruskin himself wasn’t a bad draftsman and water-colourist himself (although his paintings are not in Turner’s league, there aren’t many artists who are) and the exhibition featured a large number of his architectural drawings and landscapes. During his time at Brantwood he painted many pictures of the lake and fells, including this one of the Old Man seen from his home over the lake.

ohn Ruskin, Dawn, Coniston, 1873, Watercolour over pencil, Acquired with the support of a V&A Purchase Grant and the Friends of Abbot Hall, Abbot Hall Art Gallery, Kendal, Cumbria

During his travels in the Alps Ruskin photographed a glacier in the Alps, near Chamonix (photography being yet another of his interests)

John Ruskin and Frederick Crawley’s ‘Chamonix, Mer de Glace, Mont Blanc Massif’ photograph taken in June 1854

Emma Stibbon returned to the glacier and took photographs using another early photographic process, cyanotype, from the same position. Her images reveal just how far it had retreated as a result of climate change.

Stibbon is quoted in the Guardian

When we think of the Alps,” said Stibbon, “we think of iconic white peaks. By the end of this century, there probably won’t be any snow.”Advertisement

She added that Ruskin was ahead of his time in realising “the Industrial Revolution was affecting air quality and that air pollution was linked to the use of coal. He could see that glaciers move and I think he suspected that there was some [ice] recession, which would have been starting around that period in the 1850s.”

Another interesting and thought provoking exhibition at Abbot Hall.

Mr Turner


On Saturday we went to see Mike Leigh’s latest film, “Mr Turner” about JMW Turner. I’ve been looking forward to seeing the film ever since I read about it when it was shown at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year and I wasn’t disappointed.
Although I wouldn’t claim to be an expert on art, as far as I’m concerned, Turner is the greatest artist these island’s have produced. He was 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 and predate the works of the Impressionists who were surely influenced by him.
The film didn’t have a clear storyline as such. It was very much character driven. Timothy Spall gave a tremendous performance as Turner. He wasn’t a sympathetic charcter by any means so the portrayal was very much warts on all – well, more like grunts and snarls as that was the main way the Spall’s Turner communicated. Not the most articulate of characters – the lecture at the Royal Acadamy that featured in one scene was far from electric! – Turner’s way of communicating, as far as this film was concerned, was through his art.
The film also explored his relationships with his fellow artists and women. And in the latter, in particular, the portrayal was far from flattering. He neglected his two daughters and sexually exploited his househeeper (played by Dorothy Atkinson), but his relationship with his “mistress” Mrs Booth (Marion Bailey), his former Margate Landlady, came across as genuinly loving. His relationship with his father (Paul Jesson) was also affectionate.
All the performances by all the main characters were excellent – that’s Mike Leigh’s strength, bringing the best out of his cast – and the cinematography by Dick Pope was beautifully done, especially the landscape shots.




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.

Abbot Hall Gallery, Kendal

2012-04-12 12.36.16

On Thursday I took a day off work and we drove up the M6 to Kendal where we’d decided we’d visit the Abbot Hall Art Gallery. It’s an old Georgian house, built in 1759, which is situated in a very pleasant location on the river bank close to the centre of the old market town. The gallery opened 50 years ago after the house, which had been allowed to fall into disrepair, had been renovated by a group of local people who had formed a charitable trust to work to save the building. When the renovation work had been completed they had to decide what to do with the house, and came up with the idea of turning it into an art gallery. The next step was to get hold of some art to show in their gallery! Over the 50 years they’ve accumulated an excellent collection of works from the 18th & 19th Century and Modern and Contemporary artists. Their achievement just shows what can be done with commitment and imagination.

The main reason for our visit was to have a look at an exhibition of watercolours by Turner and other artists – Turner and his Contemporaries: The Hickman Bacon Watercolour Collection. I’d found out about it only a few days before and as it was due to close at the weekend we decided to travel up to the gallery. Its (normally) only an hour’s drive away, but, despite this, we’d never been before.

Downstairs the rooms have been restored and decorated in the Georgian style. The two main rooms are used to display paintings and furniture from the 18th century  so that they can be viewed in an appropriate setting. These included paintings by George Romney (1734 – 1802), a fashionable portrait painter who was born in nearby Dalton in Furness. I’m not particularly keen on art from this period, especially portraits of wealthy people, but I liked some of the works on display, particularly Artist’s Brother James Holding Candle, Study: The Death of General Wolfe at Quebec in 1759 and Emma Hart as Miranda. Emma Hart was the maiden name of Emma Hamilton, who was well known as the mistress of Admiral Nelson. She was something of a muse for Romney as he painted several pictures of her.

File:George Romney - Lady Hamilton (as Miranda) 2.jpg

Emma Hart as Miranda by Georg Romney Source: Wikipedia

There’s some good information on Romney, Emma Hamilton and their relationship on the Liverpool Walker Gallery website.

Also downstairs there was an exhibition of watercolours painted by Edward Wilson who had accompanied Captain Scott on both his expeditions to Antarctica, and was one of the five men, including Scott, who died on that fatal journey in 1912. The paintings are all part of the Abbot’s collection and were being shown for the centenary of his death.

The rooms upstairs had been in a very poor state of repair before the house was renovated and so have not been restored in their original style. Instead they’ve been converted into a more modern gallery space with lower ceilings and plain walls. The main temporary exhibition, Turner and his Contemporaries: The Hickman Bacon Watercolour Collection, was being shown in three of the rooms. More modern art, from the 20th and 21st Centuries  by a range of artists, were displayed in the remaining rooms.

We thought that this was an excellent gallery and really regret not having visited it before. We’ll certainly be going back there again. The entry fee is a little pricey, especially as parking isn’t free, but I guess this is their main source of income and I thought we got good value for our money.

I’m particularly keen to see a couple of forthcoming exhibitions. Abbot Hall at Fifty which is running between 27 April and 9 June 2012 and will feature 50 works from the Gallery’s own collection. They will also be showing an exhibition of works by the Manchester born contemporary painter Hughie O’Donoghue at the end of the year between 28 September – 22 December 2012. I previously saw, and enjoyed, an exhibition of his work in Dublin at the Irish Museum of Modern Art in 2009.