I love Greenwich in winter, especially when there are blue skies above and I have nowhere in particular I need to be. Maybe it was the prospect of getting back outside and walking through the park to Blackheath that meant I didn’t linger as long as expected in the Turner and the Sea exhibition, or it could have been the number of push chairs and young kids in the exhibition (sorry, I am all for kids in art exhibitions, but none of them seemed remotely interested in it), or perhaps it was the exhibition itself. I’m not sure.
Turner’s seascapes are beautiful and here they are laid out against works by other artists that influenced him or were his contemporaries. Vernet’s paintings in the second room – one at sunset and one in moonlight – show the use of light that is also so important in Turner’s work and can be seen in Fisherman at Sea, that is displayed close by and was the first oil painting Turner exhibited. I really liked Vernet’s paintings and assumed they were Turner’s to begin with and continued the confusion throughout the exhibition – trying to work out from afar which were Turner’s and generally failing.
My confusion might also have been compounded by the fact everyone else seemed to have a booklet with them that they’d been given with their ticket, but somehow I didn’t get one and I think it would have made a lot more sense of things if I had. While room after room of very well executed paintings is great and there was definitely a story being told I do feel like I missed out on what that story was somewhere along the line.
Rather than the paintings my favourite part of the exhibition was the sketchbooks, such as fisherman hauling a boat in the ‘On a Lee Shore’ sketchbook (1800-01). Its exciting to see the studies and sketches of a great painter, imagining the work that goes on behind the development of his techniques and ideas.
I also loved the last room where he further experiments with how to represent the sea, and perhaps it was this experimentation that meant A Wreck with Fishing Boats, 1840 was unnoticed until years after his death – dismissed as a study or unfinished? But its always been the subtler paintings I like best e.g. The Fighting Téméraire rather than Calais Pier and so seeing this extended further into experimentation was great to see on display.
Until 21 April 2014
National Maritime Museum, Romney Rd, Greenwich SE10 9NF