Skip to main content

Artists at Sea: Turner and the English Channel

After writing a 1,000 word piece about Winslow Homer's eighteen month stay at an English fishing village, I'm writing a series of primers about other artists who made similar journeys.


J.M.W. Turner, Margate, c. 1822, watercolour
Who

J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851), English painter.

Coastal association

Where to start? Water and oceans were his chief inspiration, comprising the central or supporting subject of many of the 20,000+ paintings and drawings he created over a long life. But mostly he painted the waters around the English coast, either directly in his sketchbook, or in his studio-produced oil paintings.

First coastal visit

1786, Margate, on the north-east coast of Kent, when he was 11 years old.

Reasons for visiting

Many reasons, both personal and artistic, that interlock in complex ways. His earliest visits were because his parents packed him off from London to spend the summer with an uncle. During his apprenticeship as an artist, he was influenced by the methods and subject matter of Dutch seascape artists such as Claude Vernet and Willem van der Welde. As his style matured, his abiding interest in how to represent the forces of nature (wind, water, air, light) drew him back constantly to the sea.

Dates visited

Turner visited and painted rivers, seas, lakes, and oceans all around Europe. But he had a particular fondness for Margate. He returned to sketch there when he was 21, and from then on was a frequent visitor. In later years he would stay at the same place, a boarding house run by one Mrs. Booth (a relationship beautifully portrayed in the 2014 film Mr. Turner).

Effect on Work

Incalculable. For many painters in this series, the sea was just one of several subjects. With Turner, we cannot conceive of the artist without thinking of ships and the sea.

Rating

10 sea points out of 10.



Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Brancusi in Plastic

Artist Mary Ellen Croteau is showing these columns made from recycled plastic cartons and lids in the window of the Columbia College bookstore on Michigan Avenue. They are a playful homage to Brancusi's "Endless Columns", with a serious environmental message for our times:

Mary Ellen also runs a wonderful experimental art gallery in a window space in west Chicago, called Art on Armitage. I will be exhibiting a mixed media piece there during August 2012.

How to etch a linoleum block

Linoleum as a material for printmaking has been used for nearly a hundred years now. Normally, you cut an image out using special gouges similar to woodcut tools, cutting away the lino around the image you want to print. This is called relief printmaking, because if you look at the block from the side, the material that remains stands up in relief from the backing material. You then roll ink with a brayer over the surface of the block, place paper over it, and either print by hand or run it through a press. You can do complex things this way (for example, reduction linocuts), but the beauty of the process is that it is quick, simple, and direct.


A few years ago, I saw some prints that were classified as coming from etched linoleum blocks, and I loved the textures I saw in them. In the last few months, I've been trying to use this technique in my own studio, learning about it as one does these days from websites and YouTube videos. I've also had email exchanges with several pr…

A List of Every Drink in Hemingway's "The Sun Also Rises"

I first read Ernest Hemingway's 1926 novel "The Sun Also Rises" when I was a teenager, and immediately fell in love with it. For the last couple of years, I have had the incredible privilege of teaching a class based around Hemingway in Paris -- while living and teaching in Paris itself, close to the Boulevard du Montparnasse, where most of the action of the novel's first half takes place.

Of the many things that one notices about the book, the colossal amount of drinking is something that stands out. These people didn't just drink like fish: they drank like whales, as if the ocean they swam in was alcohol and they had set themselves the task of drinking the seas of the world dry of it. During my read-through of the book before class started last year, I tried to underline every mention of drink in the book. And now, purely in the interests of science, I am listing the entire menu of booze mentioned directly by name. Some preliminary observations:
Most of this is…