December 2008 Newsletter

DECEMBER 2008     NEWSLETTER

The Independent Turner Society

Turner House, 153 Cromwell Road, London SW5 OTQ, Great Britain

Tel & Fax:  020 7373 5560;  Mobile:  07918 916381

selbywhittingham@hotmail.com

www.jmwturner.org   

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*** Monday,  1 December 2008,  3pm.

Sotheby’s, 34-35 New Bond St.  Visit to see Turner’s Temple of Jupiter Panellenius (est.$12-16m).  There are also some fairly unknown Turner watercolours on view:  three early ones (Topham church, Essex (Great Totham?), A Waterfall  and Landscape with Durham Cathedral);  The Valley of Washburn and Leathley Church (ex Fawkes collection; est. £200-300,000);  Vernon on the Seine (ex Ruskin collection);  Givet on the Meuse (est. £40-60,000) and Schaffhausen on the Rhine (est. £200-300,000).  There will be four more, mostly early ones (eg View on River Brent)  for sale at Christie’s on 10 December, two of which were sold at Sotheby’s in 1980.  At  Sotheby’s the Old Masters & British Pictures (some by Turner’s contemporaries) are also on view.   Guy Peppiatt, formerly of Sotheby’s,  has the private view of his exhibition of watercolours at 6 Mason’s Yard, SW1, 5.30-8.30.

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*** Monday,  1 December 2008.

Tate Britain.  Demonstration by the Stuckists against the follies of the Turner Prize.  All day? You are invited to join in, dressed as clowns or however you feel inspired.  www.stuckism.com

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5 December 2008 – 6 February 2009.

Kings Place (the new “super-lavish” arts centre at Kings Cross www.kingsplace.co.uk )

Albert Irvin – A Retrospective. 

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19 December 2008.  157th anniversary of Turner’s death.

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15 November 2008 -  2009.  Views of the Channel Coasts.  Works by Turner and Bonington.

Castle Museum, Nottingham.  Then Hull and (in May) Hastings. 

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17 November 2008 – March 2009.  Turner.  Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow.  Turners from the Tate (40 oils + 72 works on paper).  See my letters to The Times. 

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Wednesday 11 February.  National Gallery, London.  6.30pm.  ‘Painting and Poetry … reflect and heighten each other’s beauties’ JMW Turner, by Duncan Robinson, Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge.   The Paul Mellon Lectures,  21 Jan. - 18 Feb.  £5/£3.

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27 March 2009.  Turner and Italy.  Opens at the National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh, and goes on to Italy and Hungary.  100+ exhibits.  “The most important exhibition of JMW Turner paintings ever to be seen” in Scotland.  “The first to comprehensively chart Turner’s love-affair with Italy.”

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April 2009.  Turner.  Beijing.  Continuation of Tate’s touring Turner exhibition?

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23 April 2009.  234th anniversary of Turner’s birth.

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<!--[if !supportLists]-->2009.     <!--[endif]-->Turner and the Masters.  Tate Britain.  Turner and the Old Masters who influenced him.

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Mike Mannix writes from Yorkshire about his article in the Richmond Journal arguing that the song The Lass of Richmond Hill refers to Richmond, Surrey not Yorkshire.  That may well be so.  The question for Turnerites, however, is when the Yorkshire claim to the song was first made – before Turner’s visit to Richmond, Yorks., in 1816?  I suggest that that is likely.  Turner’s links with the I’Ansons of Yorkshire (and London) I have detailed, but historians have not yet taken those on board.

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Information about Turner’s unknown relatives continues to reach me.  Last month I mentioned Professor David Waterhouse, bagpiper extraodinary.  Now I hear that his wife,  Naoko Matsubara, “one of the world’s greatest printmakers”, is having an exhibition at the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, from 5 March 2009 and is to receive an Hon.Doctorate at Chatham University.  A reduced version of the show will be at the Craig Scott Gallery, Toronto, from the autumn.  She has works in the Albertina, British Museum, Fogg etc.etc.  Their son Yoshiki is a successful designer.

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In the November issue of The Art Newspaper there is a “revelation” by Martin Bailey, Why the Tate turned down Rothko’s offer of 30 paintings.  (The Rothko exhibition continues at Tate Modern until 1 February).  This is a wordy, confused account telling us little that is new.  Rothko, we are told, in February 1966 (or, some paragraphs later, February 1967) offered to the Director of the Tate, Norman Reid, to “donate 30 paintings”.  Rothko’s terms are nowhere stated, but evidently these were, like Turner’s, that the works should be on permanent view in rooms set aside for them.  The Tate’s trustees, “worried that they might have to permanently hang all the works”, decided to accept only nine.  To get round this Reid had written a “masterful” letter to Rothko:  “Only Turner, Picasso and Matisse have a room to themselves in the Tate.  In suggesting that there should be a Rothko room – where the pictures would be changed from time to time so that there would be new arrangements like music, playing a different tune, I had this in mind as the greatest honour we could offer an artist.”  Rothko’s reply is not given, but he evidently thought Reid’s letter baloney.  The curator was setting himself up here as the artist not the keeper (a title now significantly dropped, to the regret of former keeper Dr Martin Butlin). This is just what A.J.Finberg and Robert Medley objected to in the case of Turner.   Reid was also disingenuous.  There were no other rooms devoted to individual artists because the Tate had reneged on its commitment to keep such, as in the case of Watts.  In Turner’s case (the proximity of the Turners, now lost through the removal of the Rothkos to Tate Modern, had according to Reid tempted Rothko to make his offer) there were several rooms, though five fewer than when the Duveen wing was built for them.  Rothko apparently  “seemed concerned that the young artists might feel antagonistic” toward his pictures.  He had reason to, as they wrote a letter to The Times objecting to Henry Moore’s proposal for a Moore wing to the Tate.  Moore nevertheless gave the Tate 37 sculptures (besides much else), most of which are now rarely seen, being subjected to Reid’s musical chairs.

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On 8 November we visited the exhibition of Turner watercolours at the Courtauld Gallery.    In the customary dim light some of the nuances were hard to appreciate.  Remarking on the showing at Grasmere Stanley Warburton complained that it “does not stir the senses”.  The disquisition by Eric Shanes on the different media employed in a free leaflet, The Artist’s Techniques, (which Stanley Warburton said that he, with 70 years of working in watercolour, could have improved) makes observations which many viewers will have to take on trust.  Indeed one may wonder how much Shanes saw, as he says that the majority of the works “are pure watercolours”, when that is true of relatively few such as the early Chepstow Castle, details of which, rather than a mixed media work which would illustrate Shanes’ points, are used as wallpaper for the leaflet in the customary barbarous fashion.  The curators and scholars of course do not see the works under exhibition conditions, but in a more favourable light.  Perhaps it is time to consider whether the public might have the same privilege for limited periods and maybe for an additional charge?

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Shanes says that Turner “undoubtedly would never have exhibited” the unfinished works.  Maybe the museums or RA would not have, but he did occasionally in his own gallery.  One outstanding characteristic of Turner was that he was not bound by a single orthodoxy, though repeatedly scholars ignore that, making sweeping generalisations that he never used colours when sketching outdoors, did not like the works of Rubens, did not care about the preservation of his own works etc.   Of course the subtext of the remark here is that Turner was a fool not to appreciate the unfinished works as we do and so  his will was foolish.   The point was made more explicitly by Dr David Blayney Brown, when he opened Turner Watercolours (Tate 2007) by confidently stating, “It is a sobering thought that the immense treasure of watercolours, drawings and sketchbooks that forms part of the Turner Bequest at Tate Britain would not survive had Turner himself had anything to do with it”, a claim contradicted by “the independent minds of the Chancery Court … in 1856”, to which he paid tribute!  Brown goes on to quote a critic, on the exhibition of Walter Fawkes’ Turners, some with less finish than others, in 1819, who said, “the sketches of a master possess more charms than the laboured results; and to all men of taste they afford grounds for the imagination to fill up, as fancy willeth, every vacant space and unfinished outline.”  So much for Dr John Gage’s claim that this was a  new C20 attitude!

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The catalogue by Dr Cecilia Powell has been judged “a bit pedestrian” and having “not much verve” by Stanley Warburton.  This opinion is echoed by Graham Heathcote, who says that he is bored by the same old people always writing the catalogue over the last 30 years.   It echoes too that of Dr Powell’s tutor at the Courtauld years ago, Professor Michael Kitson, who in 1974 wrote a slim catalogue of the Courtauld’s Turners.  Some of Kitson’s articles have now been collected in The Seeing Eye, edited by another pupil, Dr John Gage.  A reviewer laments that Kitson’s approach, which is that of the connoisseur interested in the purely artistic qualities, is now outmoded.  Of the Colchester

Kitson wrote, “The pseudo-dramatic incident of the hare being chased across the empty foreground …is a characteristically Turnerian touch, which at once animates the scene and draws the two sides of the composition together.”   Whereas 20 or more years ago Eric Shanes saw it as exhibiting a “typical Turnerian pun” with the millrace alluding to a “mill race” in pursuit of the hare.  Alternatively the new catalogue sees a reference to a local tradition about witches.  One of our party saw it instead as a great piece of comedy, a view having the advantage of resting on what is actually in the picture.

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At all events one should not be too categorical or singular in writing about Turner, who wanted to encompass all and everything.  A charge against the present preoccupation with iconography and history is that generally it passes over the heads of visitors, most of whom do not read the catalogue.  For them what matters is the experience of the visit, whereas for the scholars and curators that has become a very secondary matter.  It was that aspect however which animated the creation of the Turner Society in 1975 and then the enthusiasm that the Turner Bequest should be housed in this wing of Somerset House.  The Turner exhibition is shown in what was the RA’s Painting School, though few would now realise that.  Sadly today there is little respect for the aesthetics and history of the Fine Rooms and more especially the Great Room on the same storey, which has been divided up in order to fit in some C20 pictures with no connection to the period  of the RA’s occupancy.  The skylights have also been blocked out.  This barbarous treatment must make the officials of the Department of the Environment who in 1975 were so anxious to recover the original appearance turn in their graves.  (A similar desecration occurs periodically in Trafalgar Square, where Turner had envisaged his gallery, as Brian Sewell has pointed out in the Evening Standard on 7 November).  The point I am making is illustrated by the cartoon in The Times (13 September), “Skip the subtext, look at the context”. 

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A section in Turner by Cecilia Powell (Pitkin Guides, 2003), of which a copy has been kindly sent to me by Mrs Iris Williams, is headed “Pleasing the Public”.  This repeats the common assertion that “the large public exhibitions of the Royal Academy reached only a limited number of people… However, his art reached a wide public through engravings.”  Maybe it was wider, but was it more numerous?  One might have reason to doubt that claim, if one stops to think.  Generally the Pitkin booklet is workmanlike, but no more.

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Another misleading statement in D.B. Brown’s Turner Watercolours came in the Foreword by the Director of Tate Britain, Stephen Deuchar, when he wrote “Among its [the Clore Gallery’s] many benefits was to bring together Turner’s paintings and works on paper after decades of separation so his genius as a draughtsman and watercolourist can be seen alongside his pictures.”  When I urged that the Bequest should be reunited, the Tate said that was quite unnecessary, as there was always a room of the watercolours at the Tate! 

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I have made some of these points to David Hockney CH RA, who in 1975 signed a letter to The Times saying, “Somerset House with its magnificent galleries and historic ties with Turner is ideally suited” to house the Turner Bequest.  The letter went on:  “For the first time we are able to see his life’s work put together as a whole [at the temporary exhibition at the RA] and some amends are made for our neglect of the terms of his bequest to the nation.”  Neither aim, for a permanent reuniting and at Somerset House, was achieved.  Hockney, however, has remained silent.  The readiness of leading figures in the art world in 1975 to speak out contrasts forcibly with the craven silence observed today, a counterpart to the decline in artistic seriousness.

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In Who Owns Antiquity? Museums and the Battle over our Ancient Heritage  (Princeton 2008) James Cuno, formerly director of the Courtauld Institute of Art and now of the Art Institute of Chicago, argues for universal museums against national ones.  Presumably he should therefore have been against the division of the Tate into Tate Britain and Tate Modern and should favour the increasingly international character of modern art.  No doubt encyclopaedic museums such as the Louvre and British Museum have their attractions.   The question is, however:  to what degree should they monopolise major art collections?    “Too much time has been wasted in arguing the wrong issues”, says Cuno.  Indeed this dull book ignores the fact that argument based on nationality is moving on.  The Greeks now ask only for the loan of the Elgin Marbles and renounce any claim to other Greek antiquities at the BM.  Moreover in pursuit of connections and generalisations, Cuno diminishes the claims of uniqueness (whether of works of art, cultures, peoples or religions).  He is also blind to the question of location, as if museums and works of art exist in a vacuum created for intellectuals only. 

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Links

www.turnermuseum.org         The Turner Museum, Florida, U.S.A.

www.spirit007genius.com                                    Douglass Montrose-Graem, Founder of Turner Museum

www.tate.org.uk/turnerww                                   Turners worldwide

www.turnersociety.org.uk       The Turner Society (1975)

www.jmwturner.org                The Independent Turner Society 

www.overturners.co.uk            The Overturners

 www.jmwturner.ca                  The Setters Turners                                                                                                                                    www.faceofturner.com            The Dundee Turner portraits investigation

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www.lancs.ac.uk/users/ruskinlib/      The Ruskin Library and Centre, Lancaster University

www.brantwood.org.uk            Brantwood, Coniston

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www.wordsworth.org.uk           Wordsworth Museum & Art Gallery, Dove Cottage

www.vie-romantique.fr             Musée de la Vie Romantique, Maison Renan-Scheffer, Paris

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www.internationalbyronsociety.org   The Byron Societies

                                                                                                                               

www.museocanova.it               Casa e Gipsoteca Canoviana, Possagno

www.thorvaldsensmuseum.dk  Thorvaldsens Museum, Copenhagen

www.musee-vela.ch                  Museo Vela, Ligornetto, Switzerland

www.musee-moreau.fr              Musée National Gustave Moreau, Paris

www.musee-rodin.fr                 Musée National Auguste Rodin, Paris

www.wattsgallery.org.uk          Watts Gallery, Compton, Surrey, UK

www.musee-picasso.fr              Musée Picasso, Paris

www.SalvadorDaliMuseum.org   Salvador Dali Museum, St Petersburg, Florida

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Selby Whittingham,     22 November  2008.December_2008_Newsletter