What­ever the weather

A sin­gle July week re­veals Turner’s mas­tery and Beaun­eveu lions roar

Country Life Every Week - - ART MARKET -

Dur­ing the first week of this month, at least 17 works by Turner were of­fered on the Lon­don art mar­ket. Four of them were ju­ve­nile or early ex­am­ples, and only one a ma­jor oil paint­ing, but, taken as a whole, this would have been a col­lec­tion to make the rep­u­ta­tion of any mu­seum. in­deed, the four wa­ter­colours with richard green at Mas­ter­piece—among them, the Chatham il­lus­trated here on June 14—two of which sold at the fair, could al­most have done that on their own.

July 5 was truly re­mark­able, in that Sotheby’s of­fered not only the oil paint­ing, Ehren­bre­it­stein, but also 10 wa­ter­colours, and Christie’s had two wa­ter­colours, one the first of his life­long se­ries of norham Cas­tle.

Pride of place was nat­u­rally taken by the 36¼in by 48½in Ehren­bre­it­stein, or the Bright Stone of Hon­our and the Tomb of Marceau, from By­ron’s Childe Harold (Fig 4), a sublime cel­e­bra­tion of Euro­pean ro­man­tic cul­ture, which he ex­hib­ited at the royal Academy (ra) in 1835. Like norham above the Tweed, the cas­tle of Ehren­bre­it­stein (Turner con­sciously mis­trans­lated the ‘noble broad stone’ as bright) at the junc­tion of the rhine and Moselle in­trigued and in­spired him over many years.

not only was the set­ting su­perb, but cel­e­brated in By­ron’s poem be­cause of the mon­u­ment on the river­bank to gen François-séver­ine Marceau-des­graviers (1769– 96), one of the true ro­man­tic heroes to be thrown up by the rev­o­lu­tion­ary Wars. He had risen from sergeant to gen­eral in just four years and his hu­man­ity was so ad­mired by his op­po­nents that, when he was killed by an Aus­trian sniper, the Arch­duke Charles sent a guard of hon­our to the fu­neral and the ar­tillery of both armies fired sa­lutes. Turner shows both Aus­trian and French troops by the obelisk erected on the grave.

Turner, like By­ron, be­came a ma­jor fig­ure of Euro­pean ro­man­ti­cism and his pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with the na­ture and ef­fects of light was char­ac­ter­is­tic of it. in Ehren­bre­it­stein, he expresses it through his im­pres­sion­is­tic tech­nique; in the 203⁄8in by 29¼in Norham Cas­tle: Sun­rise (Fig 1), it could well have been topo­graph­i­cal an­ti­quar­i­an­ism, but the great cas­tle was sec­ondary to the sun­light pour­ing through, touch­ing the higher river­banks and re­flected in the wa­ter.

A won­der­ful touch is the way in which smoke from a fire bends as it hits cooler air over wa­ter; he might have learned this trick from his friend girtin.

It was at the RA in 1798, less than a year af­ter Turner had dragged him­self (in the words of Ian War­rell’s cat­a­logue es­say) out of bed at his overnight lodg­ings on the Scot­tish bor­der to wit­ness the daz­zling sun­rise above the cas­tle from the banks of the Tweed. It won plau­dits in the press: for the critic of St James’s

Chron­i­cle, hav­ing ‘the force and har­mony of oil paint­ing. It is charm­ingly fin­ished and the ef­fect is bold and nat­u­ral. In short, we think it the best Land­scape in the present Ex­hi­bi­tion’.

The other Turner lot at Christie’s was a pre­vi­ously un­recorded 7½in by 93⁄8in colour study, a view from a cliff over a bay. It dated from about 1822–3, when he was work­ing on the last wa­ter­colours for his ‘Pic­turesque Views on the South­ern Coast of Eng­land’, the project that es­tab­lished him as the fore­most topo­graph­i­cal painter of the day.

Most of the fin­ished wa­ter­colours are now in mu­seum col­lec­tions, so it would be nice to think that this study, which came from a pri­vate col­lec­tion, re­turned to one at the mid-es­ti­mate price of £185,000.

Turner’s ma­jor ex­hibit in 1802, the year he was elected RA, was

one of the Sotheby wa­ter­colours and an­other cas­tle, this time, in his spell­ing, 25in by 372 ⁄3in Kilch­ern Cas­tle with the Cruchan Ben Moun­tains, Scot­land: Noon

(Fig 2). Again, light and weather pre­dom­i­nate, and the weather is very Scot­tish.

Sun­light, clouds, a fierce, but prob­a­bly short-lived, thun­der­storm, thick mist, light rain and a stiff breeze are all shown.

The wa­ter­colour sec­tions of the draw­ings sales at both Christie’s and Sotheby’s were the best that I re­mem­ber for some time and, be­side the Turn­ers, I would like to fea­ture his pre­de­ces­sor John Robert Cozens, still my favourite master of the English School. It is easy to be so se­duced by the melan­choly poetry of his land­scapes that one fails to re­alise how ac­cu­rate they are as to­pog­ra­phy.

I have just looked at a re­cent pho­to­graph from his view­point for the 101 ⁄8in by 14¾in View of Vi­etri and Raito, Italy (Fig 3),

which sold for £75,000 at Christie’s. Ev­ery fea­ture of moun­tain and shore is recog­nis­able in his sim­pli­fied ren­der­ing.

Fig 1: Norham Cas­tle: Sun­rise ex­em­pli­fies Turner’s fas­ci­na­tion with the ef­fects of light. £581,000

Fig 2: At­mo­spheric Kilch­ern Cas­tle with the Cruchan Ben Moun­tains, Scot­land: Noon. £464,750

Fig 4: Next week Wife of his Heart but not Queen Ehren­bre­it­stein, or The Bright Stone of Hon­our and the Tomb of Marceau. £18,533,750

Fig 3: Cozens’s wa­ter­colour View of Vi­etri and Raito, Italy. £75,000

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