Friday, 29 June 2012

Turner, Monet, Twombly

The world of J. M. W. Turner, Claude Monet and Cy Twombly is awash with sea, sky, and landscapes, and is a place where it seems colour and atmosphere are of higher importance than subject matter. All three of these artists appear to express their emotions through colour, and by looking around Tate Liverpool’s new exhibition, it appears the similarities don’t end there. This show hosts an abundance of work by each artist, and shows a progression in Impressionist painting that leaves the most contemporary of the three, Twombly, adrift between modern and traditional techniques.
Each artist has clearly been influenced by their predecessor, but individually they have pushed the boundaries of impressionist painting to create their own signature styles. Arguably all three share romantic colour palettes at times, and certainly expressive brush strokes, but where Turner and Monet paint landscapes, Twombly has opted for a more abstract approach. Still, his brave sweeps of paint do seem reminiscent of the raging seas in Turner’s pieces, and the bold reds and blacks in ‘Petals of Fire’ a progression from earlier muted yellows and browns. The question this exhibition seems to ask is, what of the mortality of classical painting? Is it still somewhat alive in Twombly’s work?
With regards to technique, there are perhaps more similarities between Twombly and Monet, particularly if we are to consider the importance of brush strokes. Twombly in particular ladens canvases with thick paint in a much bolder way than Turner ever did, even at times emblazoning his pieces with their titles, as in ‘Wilder Shores of Love.’ Monet and Twombly also have a shared use of pink, which creeps into many of their pieces. This exhibition has several of Monet’s ‘Water Lilies’ on show, as well as other iconic works such as ‘London, Houses of Parliament, Burst of Sunlight in the Fog,’ and
 ‘View of Rouen,’ all of which are mirrored in Twombly’s romantic use of pinks and purples. The misty blues and oranges in Monet’s pieces are however more reminiscent of Turner, who often opted for an earthy palette, using the colours of the elements. Monet’s ‘Morning on the Seine’ and Turner’s ‘The Thames Above Waterloo Bridge’ both share pastel qualities and subtly represented scenery which make them fit well together within this show.
It is interestingly the use of white which seems to link Turner to Twombly in this exhibition. From smaller series’ of oil paintings by Turner such as ‘Red Sky Over a Beach’ and ‘Sea and Sky’ there is an evident likeness to Twombly, with only hints of other colours bleeding through. This unexpected lightness from Turner, and sometimes an unexpected darkness in his other pieces, is also something we see reflected in the contemporary bold works of Twombly.

What this exhibition has done has created a sort of timeline of progressive Impressionism. Even if you fail to see the similarities between these three artists there is no denying the shared expressive force created by their paintings, and the crucial importance of colour. Monet’s ‘Water lilies’ are certainly a highlight of this exhibition, their misty blues expressing a quiet melancholia in response to the artist’s personal grief. However all three artists have equal weighting within the show, offering viewers both small and large examples of their work, and an opportunity to consider any shared motivations and painterly techniques. All considered truly radical painters in their time, Turner, Monet and Twombly’s explorations of colour, light and emotive expression have created some stunning pieces, more than 60 of which are on show here.
Monet’s interest in Turner is well documented, but Twombly’s adoption of such classic styles is a new consideration which Tate Liverpool is opening up to the masses. While at times these artists have conspicuously different styles, this amalgamation of their work is a fitting and thought-provoking one, and in a way, all three are keeping each other alive through their work.
By Liz Buckley

This review was first posted on ArtFace, read more here

Image: Claude Monet
Poplars on the Epte 1891
© Tate, 2011

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