I love his more abstract work where he is trying to represent movement and energy rather than a representational scene. The Snow Storm in particular, is a great example of Turner at his best. The fact that he was strapped to the mast of a boat in order to really experience a boat in a snowstorm shines through in his depiction of this natural event. Similarly in Calais Pier: An English Packet Arriving (1803) it is the swirling seas that give this painting its focus and subject. In fact, while I was in the National Gallery I took a close-up of this part of the painting:
The swell of the sea is quite mesmerising and the way Turner captures the surf gives a real sense of being in a storm and looking down on the sea.
Turner was a hugely successful artist and a contemporary of John Constable. Whilst Turner was obsessed with the problem of tradition and his paintings often caused a sensation at the Royal Academy, Constable paid little attention to tradition wishing to paint what he saw with his own eyes. Indeed, Turner was accused by Sir George Beaumont of:
“. . . failing to capture the landscape details, of lacking respect for traditional rules, and of taking too casual approach to drawing and colour.” (Crepaldi 2011:18).
For me, the world that Turner often painted was not the calm pastoral scenes of Constable but a world of movement and dynamism. His sometimes unorthodox brush strokes and flamboyant style, delivered with “gusto and skill” as Gombrich explains, give the sense or impression of nature as romantic and sublime but in a very different way to other paintings of similar subjects such de Vlieger (1640-5) (see below):
Even the title of Vlieger’s work gives a sense of the meticulous rendition of boats at sea, informed by a detailed understanding of his subject, in clear contrast to Turner’s approach and paintings. Steamer in a Snowstorm provides us with an impression of the boat and a feeling of what it might have been like to be at sea on that day. For Turner, nature provided a means by which to express his own emotions, similar to the effect romantic music or poetry might have.
So, what is it about Turner that has captured my imagination. Well, surprisingly, it is his flamboyant style, the sheer energy and movement he captures, and the way he reflects his feelings and emotions of experiencing an event through his paintings. It makes me want to go out and move my camera around much in the same way that Turner might have used his paint brush.
Turner himself described his paintings of water as the “flowing, ephemeral reflection.”
Crepaldi explains how skilled Turner was at describing water:
“He described with extraordinary skill the calm or agitation of the natural elements and myriad bright reflections and refractions of light falling on water, which is sometimes still, sometimes flowing, eddying or lifted in waves, and sometimes swept into the air in a storm.” (Crepaldi 2011:29).
Perhaps experimenting in this way will reveal a different abstraction of the reeds, through intentional camera movement or allowing the reeds to paint their own story, in Skye’s changeable weather.
In order for me to experiment in this way there will need to be a change from the current stable and calm weather on the Island. So, as is often the case, I am looking for dramatic changes in light, wet and wild conditions, thus evoking and allowing me to experience the hidden-ness of Skye.
Crepaldi, Gabriele. 2011. Turner. New York: Presel Verlag.
Gombrich. E. H., 1950. The Story of Art. London: Phaidon.