This weekend I managed a visit to San Francisco for the show J. M. W. Turner: Painting Set Free. Since it was the show’s last day at the de Young, the crowd was intense. Luckily for me, the crowds were thinner around the watercolors and unfinished works.
I was particularly interested in his study titled Waves Breaking on a Lee Shore at Margate. What this study does, and what I saw over and over in this show of Turner’s later works, was the gorgeous way he suggested movement and form while also having incredible slippage between shapes. To put it more simply, he has almost all shapes dissolve into one another. You sometimes see a mast and the upper deck of a ship, but the rest of the ship dissolves into the sea.
As I said, the crowds kept me from lingering too much. The other painting I held my ground for was Europa and the Bull. The ocean is by far the most solid thing in this entire painting, and that stunned me. I also rather enjoyed the parallel between the small figure and the similarly-sized negative space in that rock to the left of her.
I loved an interview Timothy Spall gave about his role in a recent film about J.M.W. Turner. To be honest, I enjoyed his interview more than the film itself. He did an impressive job unpacking the philosophical and historical importance of Turner and landscape painting. As Spall points out, “it was not just what you saw, but what you felt about it as well.”
Getting to this show, even at the eleventh hour, was time well spent.