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edward john poynter_horae serenae

Edward Poynter Horae Serenae (detail)


Franz von Stuck Ringelreihen

duncan grant_dancers

Duncan Grant Dancers

matisse_dance (I)

Henri Matisse Dance

I’m on a google-ban as well as a blogging-ban, but again, for things that really irritate or excite me, I make an exception (procrastinating? Me? Never.). Have I ever mentioned how much I love Edward Poynter? Well I do. Almost as much as von Stuck (did you know that I share this affection for him with Hitler? He was Hitler’s favourite painter. This von Stuck – Hitler relationship is actually freakingly interesting, at least if you have some inclinations towards the superstitious. Will have to return to this subject methinks, we could do a von Stuck Special). I like Duncan Grant very much too, although, admittedly, much more because of my fascination with the Bloomsbury set then for his actual art. His Dancers is on display at Tate, the colours are simply dazzling, just not my thing. It reminded me a lot of Matisse, and then Tate confirmed this by saying it is probable that Matisse provided inspiration for Grant. So Matisse is included here too although I am actually not a big fan.


I have been thinking a lot about Turner lately, partly because of the upcoming Tate exhibition Turner and the Masters and partly because I haven’t got much else to think about.

For years I found Turner boring. Yes, England’s maybe greatest painter; boring. Then, sometime last year, I learnt that Thomas Hardy was a great admirer of Turner and his writing was influenced by painting in general and by Turner in particular, saying of his watercolours, that each is a landscape plus a man’s soul. Now, I’m not a big Hardy-fan or anything but after that I tried to make an effort with Turner, because I wanted to find that soul.

I think my problem with Turner is Tate. I know, that sounds contradictory, but here’s my theory: Tate Britain hoards the biggest Turner collection in the world; 300 oil-paintings and 30.000 sketches and water-colours. They are all cleverly arranged around subjects, chronology and technique. In other words: Turner Heaven. The problem is that Turner is a genius who outdoes himself. It’s like Turner inflation in there. There’s so many of them, that great becomes good and good becomes boring.ancient rome; agrippina landing with the ashes of germanicus

Ancient Rome: Agrippina Landing with the Ashes of Germanicus (1839)

For example, after being nailed to the floor in front of this, wishing you could just step inside and stay there forever (or just long enough to feel those sunbeams on your skin and hear the water silently lapping against the quay…please just for a little while) how can you possibly be immersed in 20 early-Turner variations of the Thames? Exactly; let’s run through that corridor, ugh, that Turner is so b-o-r-i-n-g.

No, my best Turner experiences have been outside of those Turner-rooms. When you come across his paintings in a context different from ‘look how great Turner is.’ When you don’t expect to see a Turner (which I never do, because they’re all in Tate) and it takes you by surprise. Like at the National Gallery’s latest exhibition of landscape paintings, Corot to Monet, where among millions of little Barbizon-type oil-sketches they have manage to squeeze in a Turner. Or a few floors up where a long row of Constable’s* are acting as sedatives when all of a sudden you’re confronted with this:

Turner_ Odysseus Deriding Polyphemus

Odysseus deriding Polyhemus (1829)

Uhm, I’m not slating Tate or anything here, I love Tate. I’m just saying, you know, how I feel about this. There, I’m done.

*Here is a little anecdote, told by Tate: Before an exhibition opened at the Royal Academy, artists came in and made final adjustments to their paintings depending on what place they had been given in the hall and to varnish them, known as the Varnishing Days. These exhibitions were highly competitive and Turner made the most to outshine his rivals, sometimes bringing half-made paintings that he finished on the wall. Constable, once placed next to him, commented as he saw the last add-ons from Turner; ‘He has been here and fired a gun.’

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mimi harcourt