Ask Morgana 151: J M W Turner

I only have one image for you today, one single drawing, because good reproductions of the erotic sketches by this artist are difficult to find. Yes, we are talking about the J M W Turner (1775-1851), probably the greatest English painter of the 19c, whose attempts to convey the quality of light on a dynamic landscape were startling, revolutionary, and inimitable. On his death, the contents of his studio were bequeathed to the nation. Until recently it had been claimed that the art critic John Ruskin colluded with the curator of the National Gallery to burn bundles of Turner’s erotic paintings and drawings, in order to preserve the painter’s reputation. In 2005, the curator of Turner’s works at Tate Britain re-appraised the erotic works in the bequest, and concluded that there had been no such wholesale destruction. I’m a little skeptical, simply because of the difficulty of knowing that a collection is complete; yes, a large number of the works are extant, but that is not to say others were not destroyed, nor whether there was a thwarted attempt to destroy what remains. Ruskin was a man troubled by his own sexuality, and presumably that of others, but was a champion of Turner.

Turner is such a great artist that I am going to say this – some of his erotic work may be on display at the Tate, but if you ever have the chance to go and look at any of his work, particularly from the period of his fascination with light, go and see it. Although, like any painter of the Romantic period, he is searching for ‘the sublime’, his work heralds Impressionism, and in some cases even abstract expressionism. He is an artist of whom I can say that he was a true genius.



Image reproduced under ‘fair use’ provisions.

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