J.M.W Turner’s “Snow Storm” -The Sherbet Lemon of the Art World.
by milk and honey beauty
“What. The. Whaaa?” I think these were the words I uttered when I first beheld J.M.W. Turner’s epic “Snow Storm Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth (1842). You see, I wasn’t in the Impressionist Gallery. I was in the same gallery as all those rather dull Constables and Gainsboroughs and so on, and then…this. It hits you like a sucker-punch to the jaw. If art were candy, it’s the art equivalent of a sherbet lemon:
Let’s compare this to another popular painting of the time period, shall we? Constable’s “Salisbury Cathedral,” painted just a few years before:
Who am I to diss Constable, but compared to Turner’s work (and unfortunately for Constable, his works hang in the same gallery as Turners’ at the National Gallery) his stuff just seems…stale? Old-fashioned? Dare I say, the candy equivalent of a strawberry cream?? Sweet, comforting, and ever so slightly sickly.
This isn’t fair to Constable, of course. He was a master of brushwork, of sky and of light. He pioneered the depiction of realistic atmosphere and clouds. But Turner, in his late work, takes it to a whole new level, single-handedly (yes, really!!) inventing abstract-expressionism in one fell swoop and dip of his brush. Pretty much everything we see painted in the 1900s owes its debt to Turner. Not just the style of painting, but how it is painted: Turner famously turned his brush upside down to scratch surfaces with the wooden handle.
It’s Romantic, yet edgy and non-saccharine. It’s individualistic, yet not about the individual. It’s emotion and feeling set down in paint. It’s in love with power, and the power of the artist in particular to create and portray new worlds. In short, it’s the birth of modern art.
And now I really fancy a sherbet lemon…