Saturday, November 15, 2014

Artist of the Month: JMW Turner

-By William O’Connor

Bio pics about painters are notoriously disappointing, (The Girl With the Pearl Earring 2003, Klimt 2006, Goya’s Ghosts 2006 et al.)  There are of course a few exceptions, (Sunday in the Park with George 1984, New York Stories: Life Lessons 1989, et al.)  The reason I think for this loss in translation is the fact that the act of painting is rather boring.  Those who understand painting know that it can comprise long tedious hours of monotonous craft sitting in a chair.  This usually does not lend itself to compelling cinema and even the best films merely try to translate the beauty of the paintings into cinematography.  The opposite holds true for music, where the act of the craft is inherently theatrical and makes for excellent films, (Amadeus 1984, Walk the Line 2005, Coal Miner’s Daughter 1980, Impromtu 1991, et al.)

So I am cautiously optimistic that the new film Mr. Turner (due out in limited release this December) starring Timothy Spall will do credit to its eponymous title, the legendary artist JMW Turner (1775-1851).

Turner is regarded in the art world to be one of the greatest masters of painting.  Studying at the Royal Academy as well as in Paris Turner experienced great success with his work throughout his career.  His later work with its abstract expressionistic application became an inspiration for many of the ground breaking Modern artists of the late 19th century.  Like his paintings the man himself was regarded as an eccentric iconoclast.  His paintings often depicting the violence and kinetic energy of the new industrial revolution that was growing around him, illustrating the impressionistic movement of nature in the very forceful and animated brush strokes he used.

Today the works of Turner are some of the most valued paintings in the world.  The Tate Gallery in London boasts the largest collection, but other museums hold his works in their collections. The opportunity to see these magnificent paintings is one that should not be missed. 

For an excellent documentary of Turner watch the Power of Art episode:

And a clip from Mr. Turner that makes me think of Set-up day at Illuxcon:


  1. Saw this a couple of weeks ago (in the UK). Well worth seeing. You will not be disappointed!

  2. correction: Martin Scorsese's "Life Lessons" starring Nick Nolte is not a bio pic, but in my opinion is the best depiction of painting ever put to film!

  3. The positive consensus and that film clip sold it for me! Can't wait! The gentlemanly animosity between Constable and Turner was fantastic. In a cinematic market of fantastic galactic spectacles this will be a pleasant change of pace.

    1. Indeed. Fun to see the politics of art hasn't changed. All friends and rivals.

  4. I saw the trailer for that film the other day and it didn't grab me, but that clip was so much fun! It brought me back on board. The trailer definitely didn't do it justice.

    1. A fun scene: A flattering word to the directors, a friendly joke with old colleagues, an encouraging word to the young aspiring artist, a happy salutation to the artist in the "little room", and a cold but respectful grunt to his rival Constable. Constable's big flashy painting right next to his little seascape. Turner sees its excellent. Turner knows that Constable knows that its excellent, but won't give him the satisfaction of saying it. Artist ego, rivalry, pride and comraderie all in one little scene. Lovely.

  5. First off, Thanks for clearing some of this stuff up. As a pre-professional artist I find this stuff super interesting and useful to know.

    With that being said, I think there might be a slight typo in the bit about Donato's LotR art book. Or if not, Congrats Dan! I'm not sure how you did it (some how made Donato's book with his art about your art) you crafty magician you!

    But yeah, thanks for the article, I enjoyed it greatly!

    1. I didn't write about Donato's book, possibly a different contributor.


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