J. M. W. Turner: Rain, Steam, and Speed

We finally saw the Mike Leigh film Mr. Turner, about the great 19th century British painter. The movie was short on plot, long on verisimilitude, and utterly indelible. Well worth a look. His paintings pointed toward abstraction and often featured swirling energy, sometimes in depictions of storms and battles at sea. Here he captures the arrival of the steam engine in a famous painting from 1844, which was late in his life. He favored palettes of yellow, gold, and red, and left the serene seascapes in blue to others. Not a people-pleaser, that Turner.


  1. Saw the film when it came out. Was not sure what I thought of it when I left the cinema, and I am not sure what I think of it even now. However, there is one thing I'm sure of, and that's Turner's brilliance. I saw this painting in the National Gallery in London in my teens, and I have never forgotten its power. Also, his seascapes, recently exhibited at the Peabody Essex Museum, were jawdropping. He was so far ahead of his time.

  2. It's hard to know what to think about it, Deborah. I was prepared to dislike it a little ways in, but the sense of time and place was so strong I was drawn in. I have no idea if Timothy Spall's interpretation of Turner as grunting and inarticulate is true, but it suggested that Turner's painting would have to do the explaining for him. I am kicking myself at this very moment, as I write, for not making it up to the Peabody Essex show!


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