Thursday, 31 May 2012

Turner inspired - in the light of Claude: National Gallery, London

I had promised myself a visit to this exhibition and had worked out that if that all went to schedule, I would be able to manage it after my hip operation and without using a crutch.  Concessions are available for visually impaired visitors and the National Gallery, in common with other organisations, allows a companion or even more than one, free entry.   Being a companion to a visually impaired visitor can be hard work, but there is an audio system which I used when there was an audio post, so my friend was also able to enjoy the paintings! 

This exhibition uses a series of paintings by Claude and sets them up with those of Turner.  Claude Lorraine is rated to be the foremost landscape painter in the 17th Century.  In my Dutch pictures of the same period I have noted the Italian influence of Claude on Dutch painters who went to Italy and then influenced Dutch painters who stayed at home.  About 100 years later Turner was fascinated by Claude and in making his own landscapes used some of the techniques in faithfully copying topography while making a composition. 

Turner had used Claude originals as models for his own landscapes and there are paintings by Turner with the Thames remodelled as a French River.  I found that Turner’s picture of Linlithgow Palace resembled the Enchanted Castle of Claude more than his Solitude. 

The arrangement of the exhibition is such as that many of the Claude paintings have a Turner “version”. These are by no means pastiches; rather, Turner has used Claude’s lighting and conventions and recast them as time moved on. By the time he tried to ingratiate himself with Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, his style was too far removed from others at the time.

A few years ago I went to Tate Modern for an exhibition of Turner.  I have also seen some of the Turner collection at the Tate.  I have always enjoyed his paintings but during this exhibition I found I could make out so much more detail in the Claude “original”.  After the Solitude picture by Turner I stopped comparing and contrasting the two painters and enjoyed the Turner’s for what they have always meant to me, even when I was fully sighted.  Sometimes the imagination has to be used and as with some of the David Hockney paintings, the visually impaired can make their own impression.

This exhibition closes soon and I can highly recommend it. When we went there were no queues and no advance booking seemed to be necessary.  I was glad that I had checked out the exhibition times with the National Gallery staff beforehand.  While exhibitions such as this one are large and can be crowded this was not the case.

The audio guide was prompted by my friend and each audio prompt allows options for more details.  My friend read out the captions and though we inspected some of Turner’s sketches and notebooks I was more interested in some of the objects in the last room.  In some exhibitions the last room can be an anticlimax or a real thrill.  (I found the last few rooms of the Kusama exhibition a real surprise after a rather slow beginning)  In the Turner exhibition there are some enlarged drawings and photographs of old National Gallery shows.  There is a painting by Frederick Mackenzie illustrating a collection of paintings (shades of Zoffany and Lawrence Dundas).

This exhibition shows that some visually impaired visitors can feel included in a social setting.  In the special gift shop I bought the hardback catalogue of the show with some postcards:   

Catalogue: Turner Inspired: in the light of Claude


Seaport with the Embarkation of the Queen of Sheba, 1648
Seacoast with Perseus and the Origin of Coral, 1674

Joseph Mallord William Turner:
Sunrise, a Castle on a Bay: Solitude, 1845-5
Tivoli: Tobias and the Angel, c1835
Modern Italy – the Pifferari, c1838