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