Turner Monet Twombly: Later Paintings at Tate Liverpool

Jenni Davidson | 25 June 2012
an abstract painting of red, yellow and green washes against a white background
Cy Twombly, Quattro Stagioni:Autunno (1993-5)© Cy Twombly

Exhibition: Turner, Monet, Twombly: Later Paintings, Tate Liverpool, Liverpool, until October 28 2012

At first glance, Cy Twombly may seem a strange choice as the third member of an artistic trinity alongside Turner and Monet. The American artist who died last year may have not quite made the pantheon of great masters - yet.
But it’s his inclusion here that really stops this exhibition being just a blockbuster show to bring in the crowds. It makes it about meaning in painting and a dialogue between artists, rather than merely a chance to see some famous artworks.

Curator Jeremy Lewison eschewed an initial idea of Turner, Monet and Rothko in favour of Twombly and it has resulted in some interesting links, fascinating chains of influence, and absorbing juxtapositions and thematic journeys.

The triumvirate of artists - grandfather, father and son - offers a journey through innovation and experimentation into abstraction.

That said, next to the vibrant colours of Monet and Twombly, whose use of colour offers evident visual connections, Turner’s equally radical experiments with colour appear strangely subdued.

Perhaps it’s the abstraction of Twombly and Monet, who in 1892 said that he wasn’t so much interested in the motif, but in the atmosphere or "envelope" that surrounded it, that heightens this connection.

But as a progression it works perfectly. Turner hinted at emotion through romantic landscapes, Monet caught the emotion though an impression of the scene, while Twombly abandoned the image altogether chosing to simply evoke landscape and emotion through colour and abstract form. We sense, rather than see, what he was painting.
Twombly also links back to Turner through his use of classical references. Turner was one of the last major painters to make significant use of classical backdrops and motifs, Monet one of the first not to use any at all. Twombly loops back, referencing classical stories again, often reducing them to just a word in much the same way that classical myths are now largely unknown and have simply become familiar names.

Turner's dignified The Parting of Hero and Leander is set alongside Twombly’s wilder version of the same. Twombly’s Orpheus, meanwhile, is a giant canvas in shades of white with the partially obscured word Orpheus scrawled across it.

Selected from the latter part of each artist’s life, works by artists approaching old age in 1850, 1926 and 2000 offer the same pervasive themes of death and loss - and the celebratory joy of being alive.

There’s the chance to see Turner’s St Benedetto, Looking Towards Fusina, painted on what he knew would be his last trip to Venice. Filled with funerary black gondolas on a listless still water, it sits next to Monet’s San Giorgio Maggiore by Twilight, which was started on a trip to Venice with his wife but finished after her death. It is full of golden fire.

The theme of death is all the more palpable in relation to Twombly, who died just a few months before this exhibition first opened in Stuttgart. But perhaps it’s two of the most famous paintings, Monet’s Water Lilies 1916-19 and The Water-Lily Pond, that offer audiences the chance to sense the vibrancy and life of an artist in his later years.

As Monet was painting them, two of his sons were away fighting in the First World War. He could hear the gunfire of the trenches as he worked on them.

Turner, Monet, Twomby shows there is much to celebrate in life and art. Seize the day and see it.

Open 10am-5.50pm. Tickets £9-£13.20. Book online.

More pictures:

a Turner painting of a golden sunset with a figure representing Napoleon Bonaparte standing on a shoreline
JMW Turner, War. The Exile and the Rock Limpet (exhibited 1842)© Tate, 2011
a painting of poplar trees against a cloudy blue sky
Claude Monet, Poplars on the Epte (1891)© Tate, 2011

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