Friday, May 11, 2007

Turner: Two Companion pieces

In these companion pictures, Turner opposes cool and warm colours, and their contrasting emotional associations, as described by Goethe in his 'Farbenlehre' (Theory of Colours).

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851
Shade and Darkness - the Evening of the Deluge exhibited 1843
Oil on canvas
support: 787 x 781 mm frame: 967 x 971 x 65 mm
Tate Britain

The above picture illustrates Turner`s tragic vision of the vanity of human effort in the face of the awesome power of God through nature.

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851
Light and Colour (Goethe's Theory) - the Morning after the Deluge - Moses Writing the Book of Genesis exhibited 1843
Oil on canvas
support: 787 x 787 mm frame: 968 x 968 x 65 mm
Tate Britain

The above painting celebrates God's Covenant with Man after the Flood. The serpent in the centre represents the brazen serpent raised by Moses in the wilderness as a cure for plague. Here it symbolises Christ's redemption of Man in the New Covenant.

Turner was a very private man. We know little of his internal life and beliefs.

We know that he went to church with his friends the Trimmers when he visited them and that it was important to him that he should be buried in St Paul`s Cathedral.

His work has undoubted spiritual content.

But was his spirituality the result of religious belief or simply the awe of a creator at the magnitude of the creation of which he formed a minute part?

Tu r n e r`s spirituality was centred on the sun.

He made no secret of his love of what he called the "prime cheerer" and the "fairest of beings" and Ruskin described him as a "sun-worshipper of the old breed."

Whether this worship was truly religious is very much open to question.

As a painter, Tu r n e r depended on the sun to reveal colour and the beauty of nature. His veneration for it might have been as simple as that.