TURNER AT TATE BRITAIN

21 Oct 2014
“What shall we do today?” I asked taking a sip of luke warm coffee, trying not to notice it’s slightly grey hue. My kingdom for an Australian flat white. 
“The Turner exhibition at Tate Britain!” David has always loved the Tate Britain and he loves Turner, so it’s the perfect place to start. 

Emerging from the Underground at Westminster, we squeezed through the crush of people stopped to see Big Ben. Suddenly I noticed the police presence; the intersection at Parliament Square was lined with Police vans, which were filled with bored uniformed officers in high-vis jackets. There was the usual protesters in the square opposite, but that didn’t warrant the number of officers, in my mind. A double row of metal road barriers lined St Margaret Street behind the Houses of Parliament. And the gates were protected with special police in all black, armed with sub-machine guns! I didn’t dare photograph them. 

“London must be on high alert at the moment” David noted. 
“Yeah, you must be right.” I guess parliament must be sitting today?  

We continued further along the street through the gardens by the River Thames and the city returned to its busy self. The Houses of Parliament building is surprisingly complex. 
“You just wouldn’t get that level of detail today.” David thought. 
A blustery autumn wind blew my hair about my face and a swept leaves across the lawn like ripples of water.

Climbing the stairs of the Tate Britain’s Classical entry we decided to start with the Turner exhibition: Late Turner. paintings Set Free. The classical interior is beautifully restored, with the intricate details painted white allowing the pattern and texture to speak for itself. The central stair must be a more resent addition, a little Art Deco, a little classical. I’ve always been a fan of a black and white tiled floor, but this one is really striking.
“Let’s tile our kitchen floor like this!”

Turner was a genius. He painted with light, not colour. The exhibition includes sketches, watercolours, various note books, and oil paintings. I was particularly drawn to his watercolour ‘Sample Sketches’ of Switzerland. He love the mountains and in his later life returned many times. David loves Turner’s paintings of churning oceans and wind swept skies. 

His contemporary art critics gave him a hard time; many commissions were withdrawn before they were completed, because of a harsh review. Turner was a cockney, which I didn’t know until today, can you just imagine the art establishment’s opinion of a young cockney upstart in the late 1800’s? 

I love his more abstract paintings, with little subject matter except for the blazing sky reflected off water. His Venetian paintings really capture the essence of the place, albeit romanticised. Forbidden to take pictures, these images are from the Tate’s website:

After a coffee break in the buzzing cafe, we mooched through the permanent collection in no particular order. Besides the Turner exhibition, there is an extensive permanent collection of his works. In a dedicated room amongst these works, is a contemporary artist heavily inspired by Turner. Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Elissaon, has a series of circular canvases where the artist has extracted the use of colour and light to their essentials. Each canvas is a study of a particular Turner painting. I’m amazed at how smoothly the colours are blended, if he used a paint brush! 

In the sculpture gallery we found a room dedicated to Henry Moore, who is another favorite of mine. His sculpture has similar elements to Barbara Hepworth’s but is more masculine. Their work was shown together and I slowed to spend time with them. There was an interesting quote on the wall of his gallery: 

In 1938 the Director of the Tate Gallery, JB Manson, declared that ‘over my dead body will Henry Moore ever enter the Tate.’ Today there are 634 works by Henry Moore in the Tate Collection…

The Turner Prize (awarded to a British Visual Artist under 50) was showing, but we decided to continue with the permanent collection stopping at the comments wall. People are asked to comment on the Turner Prize, and reading them was hilarious. One of the best comments: 
“Give the damn prize to this wall!”

We found a Pre-Raphaelite gallery with John William Waterhouse. They are beautiful paintings, and remind me of the 90’s when I first discovered his work. They also remind me of our close friends Jim and Ceiney, who gave us a beautifully framed Waterhouse print for our Engagement. We miss those guys. 

It was getting late and we were getting hungry so stopped in at the gallery restaurant Rex Whistler at Tate. We were just in time for their last sitting which ment we virtually had the restaurant to ourselves. It’s a cosy dining room wrapped in a painted mural. It was a relief to be served a modest portion after five weeks in America. The meals were simple and delicious if not over priced. 

We emerged from the gallery to a crisp bright blue sky and retraced out steps to Westminster. 

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