Monday, October 15, 2007
Turner and the Critics
Poor old Turner: one minute the critics were singing his praises, the next they were berating him for being senile or infantile, or both. No great painter suffered as much from excesses of adulation and execration, sometimes for the same painting.
In the New Yorker a few weeks back, Simon Schama has a sympathetic look at J. M. W. Turner's paintings and their engagement with history as well as their critical reception both within Turner's lifetime and since his death. The online version of the article also includes an 8 painting slide show. Schama even talks about one of my favorite Turner pieces, “Slavers Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying—Typhon Coming On," which can be viewed, usually, at the Boston MFA. Shama reports that when it first appeared in an exhibit, the painting was:
mocked by the reviewers as “the contents of a spittoon, a “gross outrage to nature,” and so on. The critic of the Times thought the seven pictures—including “Slavers”—that Turner sent to the Royal Academy that year were such “detestable absurdities” that “it is surprising the [selection] committee have suffered their walls to be disgraced with the dotage of his experiments.”
The article is a great example of combining close ekphrastic attentions with a reception history of a paritcular artist (a deep context even?). For those in my 381 course, this is not a bad example of one kind of work you might do. My own tendency with deep context has always been, surprise, to tend towards poetry in such matters.