As a distinctly spring-like air makes its way across Britain, we invite you to soak up the blazing light of J.M.W. Turner’s Norham Castle, Sunrise
The onset of spring is a beautiful thing. Cherry blossoms start to appear, washing can be hung outside (a big plus in my tiny abode), and isn’t it a great feeling when the sun hits your vitamin-D deficient face for the first time in 2014? One of the great things about the British Isles is that its seasons go quite a long way to define how the nation goes about its business, as artists have documented in landscapes over centuries of British art. So, as daylight starts to fill the skies beyond tea-time, we thought it a fitting moment to admire the ‘painter of light’, and how he incredibly captured the break of dawn in Norham Castle, Sunrise.
J. M. W. Turner first saw Norham, which borders Scotland on the river Tweed in Northumberland, in 1797. He was at the limits of his trip to northern England, when he also visited Buttermere in the Lake District. After this first visit he made watercolours showing the ruin at sunrise, and visits in 1801 and 1831 resulted in further views. Amongst the blast of white light in the centre of the canvas, the ruin emerges in a darker shade of the surrounding blue sky and in doing so, the historic building and landscape appear to merge.
Among Turner’s luminous works is also a watercolour series which was thought, until now, to depict a burning Houses of Parliament - but earlier this week it emerged that these blazing buildings might in fact be the Tower of London, which went up in flames in the October of 1841. Perhaps that fact changes our perception of these paintings - or perhaps it illustrates that maybe a particular building isn’t the star of the show. Turner was reclusive in later years, and increasingly unwell by the mid-1840s, and while his later painting was subject to criticism in the press amid accusations of senility (and the kind of myths our forthcoming Tate Britain show aims to break), it’s also argued that he created atmospheric landscapes that command attention in themselves, regardless of the incidents they illustrated.
So, how about this week, as the sun finally hits us, we take a tip from Turner and not get het up in the details? Just take a step back, and soak up the light.
The EY Exhibition - Late Turner: Painting Set Free, will be on display at Tate Britain from 10 September until 25 January 2015