Monday Motivator: Turner’s Colour Effects

Art motivational quoteJMW Turner’s “radiant effects, obtained with mere paint, remain unique even after Impressionism. … replaced the old technique of light and dark contrast with the finest gradations of colours, all–or nearly all–very light in value.

“While rejecting traditional chiaroscuro, Turner also rejected representation of solid bodies compactly arranged… he created resplendent effects of colour permeating atmosphere and deep space.

His sketchbooks reveal a background of experimentation with bands and blocks of colours placed side by side in various combination.”
Source: Vision and Invention by Calvin Harlan p85

I’ve often thought of the colours in the view from my studio across the Minch as being part of a? colourfield painting by Rothko or a seascape done in greys with a narrow tonal range by Whistler, but there’s also plenty of stormy weather and dramatic atmosphere to relate to Turner. Creating a sense of distant islands, with the sun forcing its way through fast-moving clouds above a wind-whipped sea, that’s what’s on my mind today.

Art Quote: What Made Turner Stand Out?

Self-Portrait c.1799 by  Joseph Mallord William Turner. In Tate Britain.
Self-Portrait c.1799 by
Joseph Mallord William Turner. In Tate Britain.

“What made Turner’s first seascapes stand out on the [Royal] Academy’s crowded walls? … Rather than competing with the works of other artists for size and eye-catching effects (a tactic for which Turner later became renowned), these temporal coastal scenes demanded a close kind of viewing. With an understated drama and subtle variation in light and colour, they [offered] a respite from the visual cacophony around them…”

— Richard Johns, “Charted Waters” in Turner and the Sea, page 25

Turner Painting Canaletto Painting Venice

This detail from a Turner oil painting of Venice, first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1833 over a decade after Turner visited the city, shows Canaletto painting one of his magnificent views of Venice. As the wall label in Tate Britain (where I came across it) pointed out, Canaletto’s canvas on his easel is “already improbably framed”. This tiny detail in the painting, so easily overlooked, makes me smile every time. The rest of the painting doesn’t do much for me; I prefer Turner’s wilder pieces where he paints mostly the atmosphere and weather.

Turner Painting Canaletto in Venice
“Bridge of Sighs, Ducal Palace and Custom-House, Venice: Canaletti Painting” by JMW Turner. Tate Britain. Oil on wood. 511 x 816 mm.