A cup of tea with Monet, Turner and Twombly

Claude Monet 'San Giorgio Maggiore by twilight' (1908)

Last weekend after picking up H at the gym at the crack of dawn (admittedly it’s not that early in Stockholm at the moment) we boarded the tunnelbana and headed towards the Moderna Museet on Skeppsholmen to see the new show ‘Turner, Monet and Twombly-Later Paintings’.

What’s not to like? Monet (1840-1926). The architect of light and colour that revives a jaded spirit. Turner (1775-1851). Those dazzling watercolours of Venice are delectable-you feel yourself becoming the air itself. And Twombly (1928-2011). Well I’m not a huge fan but they’re enjoyable mark making. (We’d just seen his paintings  ‘Quattro Stagioni’, included in this show, at the Dulwich Picture Gallery outside London where he’d been paired up with Poussin this time. A more unusual pairing than here where they all have more of a ‘romantic sublime’ connection.) All in all I thought it will be nice to see some classic painters even if they’re not the best paintings of the artists.

Cy Twombly 'Quattro Stagioni Part 4: Inverno 1993-95

Or so I thought. But it’s a brilliant, inspiring show with quite a few full blown masterpieces. Comprising about 80 paintings, watercolours and sculptures from the artists second half of their careers, the curator has grouped them into 7 main themes (Atmosphere, Beauty, Power and Space,  Melancholy, The Seasons, Fire and Water and The Vital Force) so that the viewer can see the dis/connections between the artists more clearly.

It’s wonderful to see artists from different centuries hung together in an exhibition. It’s the way artists look at art. Generally exhibitions tend to stress the time factor- you see art from the same time to reveal dominant historical trends. But really most artists have the same preoccupations in all times and places. Technique or materials or style make it seem that it’s different. But really it’s all various degrees of cave painting.

J.M.W. Turner 'Rockets and Blue Lights to warn Steamboats of Shoal-Water' 1840The standout painting for me was Turner’s ‘Rockets and Blue Lights’ (1840) on loan from the Clark Art Institute Massachusetts, US. I didn’t think that Turner’s ‘Burial at Sea’ and ‘War: The Exile and the Rock Limpet’ (both 1842), two masterpieces of truth and light could be topped. But the glistening, pearl-like light of ‘Rockets’ dazzled me even more with a jolt. You can only say wow when you see it. It’s a swirling vortex of light energy and gravity in blue and white and grey. (It ‘s impossible to reproduce this painting and if you can, see it in real life). Everyone else seemed to be dazzled by it too. It’s simultaneously emotional, invigorating and calming to look at. Like the whole show.

 Moderna Museet Stockholm 8th October – 15th January 2012

Then Staatsgalerie Stuttgart 15th February – 28th May 2012

Tate Liverpool 22nd June –28th October 2012

‘I paint self-portraits because I am so often alone, because I am the person I know best.’

Frida Kahlo

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