Soutie had a good outing today. She has been longing for the sun on her arms and an easy life this week, and a trip North on a grimy train, a netball match watched through fencing as dense as chainmail, and tea on the side of the highway to mark time had done nothing to lift her soul.
But then…oh boy…Turner and the Grand masters at Tate Britain. A timely reminder that there is indeed a hot red heart beating away in the grey old lady that is England… we were taken around by a Tate guide ( a lucky break/ corporate perk) and treated to a mesmerising hour of intellectual generosity. Our guide shared not only his thoughts but himself and his feeling for the subject in a way we could relate to ie: he used words like ‘delicious Southern Italian colour’ – I thought of ice-cream, even though it’s vrieeslik cold here at the moment. We came away able to pick him out in a line-up ( Turner’s paintings that is, not the guide, though cardiganned and cord-clad he was easy to spot as an ‘artellectual’). We saw clearly not only how Turner drew on the Grand Masters – and how much he informed the future, but could also decide for ourselves whether or not we think he was Great. We do. We were able to scale, as if standing alongside him on the prow of one of his 17th Century Dutch ships, or the top of his classical buildings in Carthage, the height and breadth of Turner’s ambition. We sensed his ego, his masterful acknowledgment of the Legends (Poussin, Rembrandt, Titian…) coupled with his embedded sense of “I can do it better’. Every painting he did that was ‘after’ a particular painting by a Master, Turner painted just that little big bigger, as if the original size couldn’t possibly accommodate his genius. The show was extraordinary, like seeing the planets lined up once in your life, the guide a blessing, the whole outing such a tonic it should probably be illegal – we felt so good afterwards. I am grateful to live here, and to be able to go to such things on a snow-fluttery Wednesday morning on the train.
The exhibition opens with the following two paintings – The paintings are all hung in pairs – A Grand Master and then a similar Turner – it is a giant, wonderful game of ‘spot the difference’, and ‘spot the similarity’.
(struggling to paste pics…?! help)
Check out the exhibition, though it is about to finish. (31st January) Here is a link to Maev Kennedy at The Guardian’s storytelling review