Wednesday, 3 February 2010



Another January has past and so too has the yearly pilgrimage to see the Turners' in the National Gallery. Each January the Henry Vaughan bequest of a collection of watercolours on paper by JMW Turner appears when the light levels outside are at the lowest, though now exhibited in the gallery's print room with no natural light source, the outdated conditions of the bequest are upheld. This all but adds to making this event a highlight of January, as the viewer knows these works will remain a precious secret for yet another year. The collection ranges from his earlier muddier work, which despite this still magnificently manages to portray a wonderful lightness that is characteristic of his oeuvre, to unfinished sketches and sublime views from his European tour. The Venetian and Swiss landscapes exhibited here include the Doge's Palace, Lake Lucerne, and the fortresses at Bellinzona.

There is a sort of reverence in the repetition of this yearly event, as it gives a view into the forthcoming spring and rebirth predicted though the lightness and atmosphere of the work. This exhibition is always busy and the eager visitors leave their exuberant finger and lovingly placed forehead marks on the glass that encapsulates the collection. The viewer feels a connection to this work like the visiting of an old friend or relative especially coming so soon after the Christmas season.

For the past few years the exhibition entitled 'A Light in the Darkness' has been paired with the Mary A. McNeill bequest of silhouettes and miniatures. It is something that I am uneasy with and feel that should these miniatures not be shown in the delicate, yet long (it is January after all) shadow of Turner's watercolours and be allowed to stand alone it may be appreciated for the wondrous, if small, collection that it is. In my opinion the heaviness of the ivory ground of the miniatures and the blocky blacks of the silhouettes contrast too greatly with the transcendent landscapes of Turner. The pilgrimage has ended for another year, as these works rest until their next awaited return in the New Year, hopefully this time exhibited with a new pairing.

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