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Turner, Monet, Twombly: Later paintings on view at the Staatsgalerie in Stuttgart
A woman stands in front of the painting 'WaterLilies' by Claude Monet (1916-1919) during the media preview of the exhibition Turner - Monet - Twombley' at the State Gallery in Stuttgart. EPA/BERNDWEISSBROD.


STUTTGART.- William Turner (1775-1851), Claude Monet (1840-1926) and Cy Twombly (1928-2011) are among the most outstanding artists of the past 200 years. The exhibition now in Stuttgart is the first to bring the three artists together. Focusing on their late work, it presents a selection of some seventy paintings, among them twenty by Monet alone. A spacious hang allows the richly coloured canvases and works on paper to interact with each other in unexpected and fascinating ways. Carefully judged juxtapositions bring out a multitude of correspondences between Turner, Monet and Twombly: not only in the way they experiment with colour, pushing the boundaries of painting and breaking with traditions in ways that were not always comprehensible to their contemporaries, but also in their choice of motifs and subject matter. They deal with death and the transience of life, with the changes wrought by the passage of time and with nature as a place of both tranquillity and mortal danger.

Artists in Dialogue
Conceived around the idea of a dialogue between individual works by the three artists, the exhibition does not seek to recount the history of abstraction – to which Turner, Monet and Twombly contributed significant chapters – but to highlight formal and motivic correspondences between paintings and within groups of works. Viewers can enjoy fairly harmonious sections, such as the ‘Atmosphere’ opening sequence, which is characterised by colouristic restraint and an astonishing similarity in the way all three artists handle colour effects. But they are also confronted with provocative contrasts, for example in form of the juxtaposition of Cy Twombly’s five-metre canvas from the “Blooming” series with Monet’s water lilies from the Beyeler Foundation – an abstract red composition on a bright yellow ground set against Monet’s subtly atmospheric colour harmonies.

Abstraction and Colour
Although the three painters belong to entirely different eras, their works share cer-tain formal qualities, among them the use of expressive colour, the dissolution of form, gestural brushwork and a sustained interest in atmosphere. The vivid and ex-pressive brushwork that characterises Cy Twombly’s “Hero and Leandro” (1981-1984) also gives immediacy to the rough, choppy waters of the English Channel in Monet’s “The Sea at Fécamp” (1881) and the crashing waves in Turner’s “Wreckers, Coast of Northumberland” (1834). The pure, vibrant yellow of Turner’s sunsets also appears in Monet’s “San Giorgio Maggiore by Twilight” (1908) or in Cy Twombly’s “Part II: Es-tate” from the Four Seasons cycle “Quattro Stagioni (A Painting in Four Parts)” (1993-1995) and, even more vehemently, in “Untitled (Sunset)”, two works on paper of 1986. The line between recognisability of the subject and near-total dissolution of form into pure light and colour had already fascinated Tuner and prompted paintings such as “Venice with the Salute” (1840-1845), in which the iconic architecture becomes one with the gauzy, all-enveloping luminous haze. What had been experimental in Turner – and quite possibly never intended as finished – became the hallmark of Monet’s work, in which the landscape or the architectural motif are entirely subordinate to the overall atmospheric effect. Cy Twombly, finally, abandoned figuration and the object altogether, relying instead on the evocative power of colour alone.

Motifs and Subjects: The Myth of Venice
The parallels revealed by the juxtaposition of late works by Turner, Monet and Twombly are more than skin-deep. The paintings are loosely grouped under a series of richly allusive headings. ‘Beauty, Power and Space’, ‘Atmosphere’, ‘Naught so Sweet as Melancholy’, ‘The Seasons’, ‘Fire and Water’, ‘The Vital Force’ and ‘A Float-ing World’ are the sections curator Jeremy Lewison has devised for his exhibition. They have an associative openness that invites visitors to let their imagination wan-der, but they also bring out deeper levels of meaning and more complex connections in terms of the formal and thematic issues confronted by the three artists.

A sizable number of works deal with the subject of death and the transience of all earthly things. In Turner’s painting “St. Benedetto, looking towards Fusina” (1843) ominously funereal gondolas cross the still waters of the Venetian Lagoon in the wan light of the setting sun. The painting captures the morbid and melancholy aspect of the watery city and stands in marked contrast to the jubilant celebration of the glorious light that distinguishes “Venice with the Salute” (1840-1845). Monet too was fascinated by Venice and enthralled by the city’s atmospheric light and evoca-tive colour. But if we look at Monet’s Venice paintings in the light of his biography, the paintings take on a somewhat different hue. Monet’s wife fell seriously ill shortly after the couple’s return from a prolonged sojourn in Venice in 1908 and died in May of 1911. Work on the paintings he had started in Venice was a way for Monet to come to terms with the loss of his wife and to remember their shared life. The boat motif, which appears in the work of both Turner and Monet, is also a near-constant presence in much of Twombly’s oeuvre. His sculpture “Winter’s Passage: Luxor“ (1985) is made from found bits of wood and offers an insight into the origin of the motif in the boats of classical antiquity. Twombly’s boats thus allude to man’s final journey into the world of the dead aboard the vessel steered by Charon, the mythological ferryman of Hades. They evoke the transience of life, the passage of time and the transition from one form of existence to another. This aspect is expressed with great poignancy in “Part IV: Inverno“ of the Four Seasons cycle “Quattro Stagioni (A Painting in Four Parts)”, where the barely recognisable, calligraphic boat ciphers are being swallowed up by black paint. Like the boat imagery, the subject of the four seasons is a potent allusion to the fleeting nature of time.

Late Works of the artists: Unbroken creativity and enthusiasm for experimentation
The exhibition focuses on late works by the three artists. Far from resorting to facile repetition, each of them continued to invent new ways of expressing age-old sub-jects. Even though their late works may tend to deal with themes such as melan-choly, loss, mourning and remembrance, they are distinguished by an unbroken crea-tivity and a growing enthusiasm for experimentation.

As he grew older, Turner began to value the effects of light and colour over finish and to leave more and more of his paintings uncompleted and indistinct as to their sub-ject matter, preferring instead to establish an atmosphere and a vague colour com-position. His enigmatic late paintings continue to fascinate the public and are widely seen as a source of inspiration for the Impressionists. Monet, on the other hand, withdrew more and more from the bustle of modern life, retreating to the micro-cosm of his garden at Giverny, where he devoted himself to countless and increas-ingly abstract variations on the theme of his water lily pond that gave expression to his withdrawal from the world. Twombly, finally, discovered the joys of expressive colour. The almost obsessive use of colour that characterises his late work has no precedent in his earlier output and bears witness to his undiminished vitality.

The Exhibition: Idea, Scope, Loans and Presentation
Several years in the making, the exhibition curated by Jeremy Lewison brings to-gether almost seventy works, among them three sculptures by Cy Twombly, ten works on paper and a wide selection of paintings ranging in size from small-format studies by Turner (c. 30 x 48 cm) to enormous works by Twombly (“Untitled” (2007), measures 252 x 552 cm, each of the canvases of the “Four Seasons cycle” c. 300 x 200 cm). An exhibition as ambitious as this one can only be realised with the help of gen-erous loans. Most of the 22 Turner paintings come from the Turner Bequest housed at Tate Britain in London. Further works have been made available by the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, and the Sterling and Francis Clark Art Institute in Wil-liamstown. Works by Monet were loaned by the Musée d’Orsay, Paris, the Von der Heydt-Museum, Wuppertal, the Beyeler Foundation, Riehen, the Museum Folkwang, Essen, the Kunsthaus Zürich, the National Gallery of Art, Washington, the National Museum Wales, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Some of the Works by Twombly come from the Centre Pompidou, Paris and Tate Modern, London. Several works have been borrowed from private collections.

The exhibition was shown at Moderna Museet, Stockholm, from 8 October 2011 to 15 January 2012. After its run at the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, it will be presented at Tate Liverpool from 22 June 2012 to 28 October 2012.





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February 13, 2012

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