Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Picture of the Week No.30 J.M.W. Turner

All of us here at the Art Gallery and Museum have been enjoying the BBC's Sherlock and are very pleased to hear there'll be more episodes. The first series ended on a ciff hanger ending, but one of the most dramatic moments in the original books was Sherlock falling, apparently to his death from the Reichenbach Falls in the Swiss Alps. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wasn't the only person to be so creatively inspired; 90 years earlier JMW Turner had travelled there and produced one of his finest watercolours. In 1954 that epic painting was bought for the Cecil Higgins Collection. It remains one of the stand-out works in the collection and was recently in the Turner exhibiton that toured the US, finishing in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Sherlock Holmes, was brought back to life by Coyle Doyle in The Adventure of the Empty House after his dealy encounter with Moriaty by the great waterfall. How will the 21st version survive his similar situation? KP

The Great Falls of the Reichenbach, 1804
Entry from the Watercolour Catalogue:
Accesion No.: P.98
watercolour on paper, 102.2 ´ 68.9 cm
inscribed: J M W Turner R A 1804

Turner was born on 23 April 1775, the son of William Turner, a barber in Covent Garden. After the death of his sister, and 'in consequence of illness', he was moved to Brentford, living with his uncle, where he attended Brentford Free School as a day boy. His earliest known work is a copy of an engraving of Friar Bacon’s Study and Folly Bridge, Oxford (Oxford Almanack, 1780), made when he was twelve; it was at this time that he produced many sketches of churches, abbeys and city streets. A friend remembered Turner declaring that 'if he could begin life again, he would rather be an architect than a painter'.

Entering the R.A. Schools in 1789, his training is remembered by Edward Dayes who said 'The way he acquired his professional powers was by borrowing, where he could, a drawing or picture to copy from; or by making a sketch of any one in the Exhibition early in the morning, and finishing it at home. By such practices... the fine taste and colour his drawings possess are scarcely to be found in any other'.

The Great Falls of the Reichenbach was first shown at Turner’s own gallery held on the first floor of what was 64 Harley Street. Turner had conceived the idea of his own gallery due to uncertainty over the future of the Royal Academy in late 1803, with rumours abounding that Turner would not be showing at the the R.A. in 1804. Sir George Beaumont (who saw the Turner exhibition) complained of 'the strong skies and parts not corresponding with them'.

The Great Falls is a superb watercolour, made soon after Turner’s first visit to Switzerland in 1802, and is based on a sketch (Wilton no.361) now in the National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin. The view is taken from the valley of Hasli above Meiringen with Great Scheidegg beyond and shows Turner tackling a 'Sublime' subject with enormous confidence. Turner’s pride in the work is shown by the fact that it was again exhibited at the R.A. in 1815.

PROVENANCE Bought from Turner by Walter Fawkes of Farnley Hall; Fawkes sale Christie’s 2 July 1937, no.37, bought in; Mrs F.M.C. Raymond; sale at Christie’s 13 October 1954 no.29; bought by Thos. Agnew & Sons Ltd, from whom purchased by Gallery, December 1954.
EXHIBITIONS: Turner’s Gallery, 1804; London, Royal Academy, 1815, no.292; London, Grosvenor Place (Fawkes’ London House), 1819, no.2; Watercolours from Farnley Hall, Leeds, Music Hall, 1839, no.23; Old Masters of the British School, London, Royal Academy, 1886, no.34; Old Masters of the British School, London, Royal Academy, 1906, no.205; Exhibition of British Art, London, Royal Academy, 1934, no.708; 68th Annual Exhibition of Watercolours, London, Thos. Agnew & Sons Ltd, 1941, no.36; L’Aquarelle Anglaise, Geneva, Zurich, 1955-56, no.117; The Romantic Movement, London, Tate Gallery, 1959, no.440; Primitives to Picasso, London, Royal Academy, 1962, no.380; Watercolours and Drawings from the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery, Bedford, London, Thos. Agnew & Sons Ltd, 1962, no. 61; Royal Academy Bi-centenary Exhibition, London, 1968 –9, no.203; La Peinture Romantique Anglaise et les Préraphaélites, Paris, Petit Palais, 1972, no.284; Turner, Paris, Le Grand Palais, 1984, no.100, William Wordsworth and the Age of Romanticism, Chicago, The Chicago Historical Society, 1988, no.292; The Great Age of British Watercolours 1750-1880, London, Royal Academy of Art and Washington, National Gallery of Art, 1993, no.284; Le Cattredali della Terra, Milan, Museo della Permanente, 2000, no.3; Turner The Great Watercolours, London, Royal Academy, 2000-1, no.18.
REFERENCES: Farnley Hall catalogue, 1850; F. Wedmore, Turner and Ruskin, 1900, vol.I, repr. facing p.100; C.F. Bell, The Exhibited Works of J.M.W. Turner, R.A., 1901, pp.51,170; Sir W. Armstrong, Turner, 1902, pp.130 & 272; A.J. Finberg, Turner’s Sketches and Drawings, 1910, p.39; ibid. Turner’s Watercolours at Farnley Hall, 1912, pp.1-2,21-2 pl.IX; A.J. Finberg, The Life of J.M.W. Turner R.A., 1939, pp.107, 219, 258, 466,477,479,503; A.P. Oppé, The Burlington Magazine, vol.78, April 1941, p.131; I. Williams, Early English Watercolours, 1952, pp.111,114; J. Gage, Turner: A Wonderful Range of Mind, 1987, p.42, fig.63; B. Dawson, Turner in the National Gallery of Ireland, 1988, pp.64-66; E. Shanes, Turner: The Masterworks, 1990, p.56, pl.57; D. Hill, Turner in the Alps, 1992, pp.119-125, repr. p.120. E. Shanes et al, Turner The Great Watercolours, 2000, p.86.

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