Famed Turner paintings at area museums

‘Mr. Turner’ is up for four Oscars

After you’ve met up with the famous “Mr. Turner” on the big screen, you’ll probably want to see the renowned artist’s paintings first-hand.

You needn’t go far, thanks to at least four museums in our area: The Dayton Art Institute, Columbus Museum of Art, Cincinnati Art Museum and Cincinnati’s Taft Museum all have fine examples of Joseph Mallord William Turner’s gorgeous English landscapes.

As depicted in the film, the well-known artist — who lived from 1775 to 1851 —wasn’t a very nice human being. But in contrast to his nasty personality, Turner’s artwork was often tranquil and calming.

The movie, written and directed by Mike Leigh, has already racked up some significant honors. “Mr. Turner” earned a rare 99 percent rating from critics on the “Rotten Tomatoes” web site, has been nominated for four Academy Awards including Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Original Score and Best Production designer. Actor Timothy Spall, who plays Turner, was named Best Actor at the 67th Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for Actor of the Year by the London Film Critics Circle.

The film is slated to open at Dayton’s Neon movie theater Feb. 27 and is currently playing at the Mariemont Theatre (6906 Wooster Pike) in Cincinnati and at the Drexel Theatre, 2254 E. Main St. in Columbus. The Little Art Theatre in Yellow Springs is planning to show the film, but has set no definite date.

“J.M.W. Turner is, quite simply, one of the most significant artists ever to come out of the English-speaking world,” said Tyler Cann, associate curator of contemporary art at the Columbus Museum of Art. “By all accounts he was a peevish sort of person, but his best paintings are awesome in the truest sense of the word.”

Cann said Turner gave expression to the tremendous power of nature and, unlike many of his contemporaries, let the paint itself come alive with that expression. “No one else could capture the blinding light of the sun, both dissolving and illuminating everything before it, in quite the same way,” he said.

Turner at the Dayton Art Institut"

Aimee Marcereau DeGalan, the DAI’s curator of collections and exhibitions, said Turner became known as the “painter of light” because of his increasing interest in brilliant colors as the main constituent in his landscapes and seascapes later in his career.”

“Turner is widely regarded as the artist who elevated landscape painting to an eminence rivalling history painting,” said DeGalan. “But not everyone supported his work. He faced many detractors, including the President of the Royal Academy, Benjamin West, who was an early advocate. West later denounced the artist’s work as ‘crude blotches.’ “

Nevertheless, she said, Turner is perhaps the most well-known English Romantic artist and his atmospheric brushwork and subject matter foreshadowed Impressionism.

At the moment, thanks to the generosity of the Harold W. and Mary Louise Shaw Foundation, the DAI is displaying an oil painting mounted on wood entitled “View in Devonshire.” It’s thought to date to the summer of 1813, the year Turner visited the county of Devon in England and was persuaded by a friend to make oil sketches of the serene countryside around the city of Plymouth.

“The close proximity of the houses in the immediate left foreground provide a striking counterpoint to the hills and valleys which melt into the distance,” reads the wall text which says the scene comes to life as a result of Turner’s “deft handling of color and light, creating lustrous atmospheric effects in the distant horizon.”

Two Turner etchings, “Raglan Castle” and “Naval Academy at Greenwich,” are part of the DAI’s permanent collection but are not on view. Both were part of a 1959 purchase from Mrs. Thomas Lynn Johnson of Springfield; the DAI purchased Mrs. Johnson’s late husband’s collection of English and Continental prints.

Turner at the Columbus Museum of Art

Despite its modest size, curator Cann says the watercolor in the Columbus Museum’s collection contains a very powerful image. “We see the tumultuous aftermath of a shipwreck in the foreground, while in the background a majestic and weather-beaten castle stands against the rages of time,” he said. “It is a work about the frailty and vanity of human life, but also the endurance of our achievements.”

He said Turner’s achievements will certainly endure: the most prestigious award given to contemporary artists in Britain today, the Turner Prize, is named in his honor.

Turner at the Cincinnati Art Museum

Because of the great interest in Turner at the moment, the Cincinnati Art Museum has extended the opportunity for visitors to view “Lyme Regis, Dorsetshire, England.”

The watercolor painting had been in storage for conservation purposes but is now on display. The museum also has one other Turner watercolor and several prints in its permanent collection not currently on display.

Curator of prints, Kristin Spangenberg, said “Lyme Regis” is a good representation of Turner’s work and is based on sketches he made in 1811 on his first tour of the southwestern coast of England. He was known for his seascapes, Spangenberg said this one shows a sailing vessel struggling to retrieve a wrecked ship’s mast and top. On the beach two men drag wreckage out of the water and prepare to attach a line from a horse to pull it inland.

According to Spangenberg, in 1825 Turner began his Picturesque Views in England and Wales series, one of his most ambitious projects. Although the original project called for engravings based on 120 newly commissioned watercolors, by 1838 only 96 prints had been issued and the project was terminated.

“The stock of engraved plates and prints was auctioned off and Turner paid more that £3,000 to buy them all back,” said Spangenberg. “Although the series never materialized, it inspired some of his finest watercolors, including “Lyme Regis,” a work titled after the small coastal town near the Dorset/Devon border. Turner cast the town in brilliant light. The fluid brushstrokes and complex composition create abstract patterns that sweep across the image.”

Turner at the Taft Museum

Two oil paintings by Turner are on display at the Taft Museum in Cincinnati: “The Trout Stream,” a scene from the English countryside, and “The Golden Bough,” on loan from the Tate Britain in London.

The Taft’s other oil painting, “Europa and the Bull,” is on loan to the Tate and will then travel to the Getty Museum in Los Angeles and Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco as part of an exhibition entitled “Late Turner: Painting Set Free.”

In its place the Taft will display “The Golden Bough” through early August.

“Turner transformed British oil painting by bringing the lightness and transparency of his brilliant watercolor technique into oil paintings, making marvelously filmy, translucent pictures with glowing color that astounded his peers and still delights us today,” said Lynne Ambrosini, the Taft’s director of collections and exhibitions and curator of European art.

“Similarly, he brought contemporary events and historical subjects into what was considered a lowbrow art form — landscape — and helped transform it into a widely popular—indeed, the very most popular—type of painting in the nineteenth century.”