David and Art - New from the 1800's

Dec 20, 2021

An English painter born during the American Revolution gave clues to what the 20th century would look like.

If this show has a motto, I think it would probably be “there’s always something new to discover.”  Because I believe that.  I live that.  The entirety of my interaction with the arts, and, in fact, with history itself, is testament to it.   I’m always coming across something that may not be new to you necessarily, but is to me.

In October 2007, I was in Washington DC and I knew I was going to have some free time on my hands. I was interested in seeing an exhibit at the National Gallery of an 

artist named Edward Hopper.  Hopper is pretty well known and is most famous for his often-parodied painting Nighthawks but beyond that, he’s a master of portraying isolation in his works—usually in an urban setting. The evening before I was going to go, I was at a dinner with some people and mentioned my interest in the exhibit.  Someone said while you’re there be sure not to miss another exhibit, one of the English painter J. M. W. Turner.  I knew Turner in passing, primarily from his paintings of sailing ships and English naval battles, but honestly didn’t know much.  The next day, I ended up seeing the Turner show first and was blown away.  I almost didn’t go to the Hopper.  It suddenly seemed superfluous.  I bought a catalog of that exhibit—in fact, it may have been the first exhibit catalog I ever bought.  I pulled it off the shelf to write these words.

Joseph Mallard William Turner was born in London in April, 1775 the month the American Revolution broke out on the far side of the Atlantic.  His artistic ability was notable at an early age, and by the time he was 11 his father was selling his drawings in his wig shop.  He entered the Royal Academy of Art when he was only 14 and had his first exhibit there the next year.  He would go on to paint some of the most intriguing, creative, and groundbreaking works of the 19th century.

Now, over 230 years after his first exhibition, there’s a show of his paintings in Fort Worth that I don’t want you to miss.  It’s called “Turner’s Modern World” and it’s up at the renowned Kimball Museum of Art through February 6th.  The museum notes that “As the advances of industry and commerce brought Britain to world power, Turner immortalized these dizzying changes in vivid and dramatic compositions, with skillful brushwork that gave the impression of being wild and uncontrolled.”   More than any other artist of his day, Turner’s style pointed the way to the future.  To the impressionists waiting in the wings.  To Modernism itself.

More on this next week.