The Tate Britain – JMW Turner and William Blake

We spent the day at The Tate Britain. Having visited there two years ago we anticipated seeing some of our favorite paintings once more. Unfortunately, in many instances we were disappointed. Such is the nature of art curation. The museum’s curators have chosen to highlight a chronological history of British painting. This means that many somewhat obscure works are featured and our favorites were either not on display or relegated to the top of the wall where poor lighting and reflections from the ceiling skylights rendered them unviewable.

Tate Main Gallery

Tate Main Gallery

That is not to say that the day was wasted. The Tate owns perhaps hundreds of thousands of pieces of art, so regardless of the curators’ choices there is something available for everyone. The Turner rooms have been rotated to feature primarily his Academy-acceptable works. These are rather conventional romantic realist landscapes that look like many other 19th century paintings. Turner’s basic talent shines through, but these do not show the virtuosity that his non-Academy works do. Turner painted these to get into the Academy’s annual show, but sold his more adventuresome paintings through his own gallery. Those are the ones we saw two years ago and were mainly absent at present. However, one bright spot was a small room dedicated to some of his watercolors.

The Tate has about 37,000 Turner works on paper, most of which are watercolors or drawings. It is impossible to comprehend such a monumental collection. These works often were sketched or painted on location as studies for future large oil paintings. He often would simply work a theme over and over until committing to canvas. A few of these developmental pieces on paper were on display.

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A pleasant surprise was the art of William Blake. Most of us know him as a poet, but Blake was an accomplished artist and printmaker. He achieved little recognition or success in his lifetime, but some fellow artists recognized his vision and talent and preserved his works for us to appreciate. Blake was painting expressionist and almost abstract art over 100 years before anyone else attempted it. His work would fit into many contemporary galleries. Although I don’t personally care for most of his work, I fully appreciate the daring it took for him to pursue a new and individual vision.

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That’s my summary of our day at Tate Britain.

About Paul

I'm retired, but working at painting, photography, and song writing. We like to travel and paint plein air in new places. Of course that's also where photography comes into the picture, so to speak. Sometimes I get inspired to write songs about the people and places we visit.
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4 Responses to The Tate Britain – JMW Turner and William Blake

  1. Brenda says:

    I would encourage you to give the Tate your feedback. You made some very good points, especially about Turner. A few years back I did the same thing, when virtually all their works wre relegated to two rooms (imagine!) in favor of a very modernistic collection of rocks. Of course, the spectators were jammed into those two galleries and the others were empty. That’s what the Tate Modern is for.
    So glad you are seeing so much art. I am vicariously enjoying all you adventures. You will never run out of galleries.

  2. ace davis says:

    Dearhearts – Loved the Turner sketches – no matter how he tried to knuckle under it just wasn’t possible and we should be grateful, eh? And Blake, so fine, thanks for sharing a few of what I’m sure were many excellencies. Love, ace

  3. Jean-Paul DUmont says:

    What do you mean disappointed? Phooey! The sketches of Turner are certainly exciting to watch (how can he make it look so bloody simple?). As for Blake, he has been one of my favourite Brit, as both poet and painter. I knew his paintings in my early twenties, when I studied his poetry and I can still recite the TIger stuff without batting an eye.
    So I am pretty sure that your day at the Tate was a success. Besides, would you want only to see again and again what you already know and have seen. At any rate, thank you for sharing.
    JP

    • Paul says:

      Yes, I love to see the same paintings over again. However I also like to “discover” new paintings and painters. William Blake is a case in point. My education clearly wasn’t as comprehensive as yours. Or perhaps I wasn’t paying sufficient attention in college. He and Turner both were well ahead of their contemporaries in testing the accepted limits of art. It is wonderful to see it.

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