When it comes to art, there is talent and then there is genius. Beyond the two, there is a third category, that of inexplicable otherworldly gift. That is a realm which permits extremely few artists. Joseph Mallord William Turner dwells in that realm.
During my routine visit to iTunes trailers I chanced upon an upcoming movie called ‘Mr. Turner’. Directed by Mike Leigh the film is a biopic about Turner (23 April 1775 – 19 December 1851), who is regarded as Britain’s greatest artist. A description on his official website says he was “an English Romantic landscape painter, watercolourist and printmaker, whose style can be said to have laid the foundation for Impressionism. Although Turner was considered a controversial figure in his day, he is now regarded as the artist who elevated landscape painting to an eminence rivalling history painting.”
I was so taken in by the trailer that I went straight to the Google Art Project to look for Turner’s works and from there to his official website only to be astonished to find the scale of his preternatural gifts, quite like the Flemish master Pieter Bruegel (1529-1569) about whom I have written in these columns. There is also a striking film about Bruegel called ‘The Mill and the Cross’ directed by Lech Majewski and starring Rutger Hauer. While ‘Mr. Turner’ seems like a a regular biopic ‘The Mill and the Cross’ was about Bruegel’s much celebrated 1563 masterpiece ‘The Way to Calvary’. I have a weakness for movies about painters which are shot like their own paintings. Both these films could be said to fall in that category quite like Peter Weber’s ‘Girl with a Pearl Earing’ about the Dutch master Johannes Vermeer’s (1632-1675) famous painting of the same name.
I will write separately about Turner’s vast body of work—19,000 watercolors, drawings and oils according to the website—but today I wanted to quickly bring the movie to your notice. The movie was shown at the ongoing Toronto Film festival. No matter which work of Turner’s you look at, you cannot but marvel at his sense of scale, detail, dimension, light, color and the moment’s essence. That is one common thread which runs through all the names I have mentioned here.
There is a scene in the film where Turner is touching up an already complete masterpiece with a little red dot much to the horror of the others in the room. One of the onlookers even says, “He has ruined a masterpiece.” Turner pays no attention to it and continues doing what he was doing. He then wipes off the bottom half of the red dot with a cloth. There is relief in the room and you hear, “It’s a buoy!” It indeed is.
In my continuing quest to develop some craft as a digital painter I paid attention to Turner’s maritime works, in particular to the way he painted frothing waves in many of them. I did the painting below completely under Turner’s spell. I even copied his idea of a red buoy. I don’t know about you but I find it exhilarating to repeatedly discover that I have no talent at all. So here is to Mr. Turner.