Friday, August 10, 2007

Venice, looking across the lagoon at sunset

J.M.W. Turner, Venice: Looking across the Lagoon at Sunset, 1840
Source: Tate, Creative Commons

Tate Britain's exhibition Hockney on Turner Watercolours is full of beautiful paintings, but is slightly irritating for a couple of reasons. One is the role of Hockney himself, which seems to have extended no further than picking out a few of Turner's most 'abstract' unfinished works for one of the rooms, and lending his name to the exhibition (which, I should point out, is free). The other is the excessive emphasis put on The Blue Rigi c1841–2, "Turner's magnificent work which was recently acquired by Tate with the help of the most successful public appeal ever organised by The Art Fund." But it is worth going if only for a row of three Venetian watercolours from 1840: Venice, looking across the lagoon at sunset with its Hodgkin like combination of see green lagoon, misty orange sky and a solitary band of purple cloud; The Punta della Dogana at Sunset, in delicate yellow and pale purple; and Fishermen in the Lagoon, Moonlight, painted in a range of blues and representing a simple scene of Venetian life, rather than one of the famous viewpoints.

J.M.W. Turner, The Blue Rigi, Sunrise, c. 1841-42
Source: Wikimedia Commons

There are some new David Hockney oil paintings of 'The East Yorkshire Landscape' on show with the exhibition. They are a bit of a shock after Turner: lurid colours, crudely drawn tree trunks, disconcerting perspectives. It is hard to know what he's getting at. All it says here, is that Hockney "drives to his chosen destination and sets up his tools. Then he sits for a couple of hours looking at the landscape, absorbing the view, before picking up a paintbrush. This quiet but intent observation is followed by feverish activity to capture the essence of what he sees. Hockney conveys the land and light in electric colour, bringing to the canvases his love of place, freshly observed and infused by decades of experience and the memories that it conjures of childhood days." Ah... which I suppose only goes to show that a press release is not the place to look for incisive commentary. These paintings seem like a strange way to celebrate 'love of place', but I suspect I may not be on Hockney's wavelength.

1 comment:

Plinius said...

I was trying to be open minded about Hockney's paintings in this post but still can't get over quite how unappealing they were. Here's what Eric Shanes said in Apollo magazine: "As is made painfully clear by four Hockney oils hanging elsewhere in Tate Britain, as well as by the huge but utterly vacuous picture he hung in the 2007 Royal Academy Summer exhibition, of late Hockney has become an extremely weak painter indeed. There seems to be a million miles between his artistic feebleness and the unbounded technical confidence of Turner, especially at the age Hockney has now reached, 70, when Turner created some of his most visionary and innovatory images."