JSW Turner The Blue Rigi, Sunrise watercolor on paper 1842
My husband and I were lucky enough to go to the opening of the new Getty exhibition: 'Turner: Painting Set Free.' It was more lovely than I had expected, given I have only seen his two paintings at the Huntington Gardens previously. To see his work, row upon row, showed his strength in repetition and variation upon a theme: the watery, steamy, moist atmosphere carried from painting to painting, some calm, some tumultuous, some finished, some barely started. His paint was simultaneously remarkably transparent and remarkably thick. He seems to have been a precursor to Bonnard in his practice of placing an empty space or a void at the center of the canvas. The paintings glowed.
But it was his watercolors that were most revelatory to me. I have never seen watercolor used so deftly, not even by Sargent or Winslow Homer. His watercolors were fresh and light and luminous. Some were as detailed as his oil paintings, but with even greater transparency and movingly delicate brushwork. But the quickest and lightest of his watercolors on display, a set of paintings made on the spot of the tower of London burning at night, were also among the most vivid. They felt so immediate still, as though you were watching the flames reflected across the water across more than a hundred years of time. The sparks still falling, the colors still bright.
JMW Turner Fire at the Grand Storehouse of the Tower of London watercolor on paper 1841