Room 4: The Vital Force The Vital Force

Turner Monet Twombly Later Paintings exhibition banner

The sensual and the sexual are not characteristics normally associated with Turner but in his later years he introduced mythical themes that were voyeuristic and openly erotic. He had shown a sustained interest in erotica in his private sketchbooks, but only began to paint nude subjects from 1840 onwards. In titillating paintings, such as Bacchus and Ariadne exhibited 1840, which recounts Bacchus’s discovery of the Cretan princess following her abandonment by Theseus, Turner could cloak his erotic images in the guise of myth.

Reference to eroticism and sexuality can be found in many of Twombly’s early works, and the artist returned to the subject in later life. In Wilder Shores of Love 1985, titled after a book by Lesley Blanch about the travels of four nineteenth-century women in North Africa and the Near East, Twombly refers back to his own trip in 1952 to North Africa, in the company of Robert Rauschenberg, and memories of sexual freedom. ‘Camino Real’, the title of his last major series of paintings, references a play by Tennessee Williams in which one character’s virginity is extraordinarily renewed on a monthly basis. Camino Real II 2010, full of looping, partly phallic swirls in vibrant shades of orange and red, testifies to Twombly’s undiminished energy and joie de vivre.

Monet’s late views of the Japanese footbridge in his garden at Giverny are characterised by dynamic, sensuous brushwork and rampant, turbulent swirls in fiery shades of red and brown running riot on the canvas. The contours of the bridge all but disappear in the dense, superabundant mass of colour. Although Monet may not have intended any sexual connotation in his choice of motif, he would have been aware of the association of flowing rivers and empty boats with female sexuality, and also of traditions within academic painting where water lily ponds form the backdrop to erotic scenes.;