Stage adaptations of Jane Austen have become increasingly popular in recent years (we look at one such adaptation later on in this week’s Jane Austen News). We’ve had one-woman shows, Jane Austen musicals, Jane Austen improv, but one we personally haven’t come across before is one of Jane Austen’s novels staged as a ballet. However Ballet Fantastique will be doing just that. Their first show of the 2016-17 season is bringing back a 2012 premiere, Pride and Prejudice: A Parisian Jazz Ballet.
“We’re taking the classic Jane Austen novel and remixing it with 1920s Paris,” said their marketing director Katey Finley in a recent interview. “A live band will be wearing snazzy suits and playing live period jazz along with great choreography, like doing The Charleston en pointe.”
How fantastic is that?!
A Book Of One’s Own
Orion recently bought the novel Perception by Terri Fletcher, which will chronicle the life of Mary Bennet, the third Bennet sister, after Jane, Elizabeth and Lydia leave Longbourne. In the past all of the Bennet sisters have at one time or another seen the spotlight and had new adventures written about them, but a recent blog post by Alicia Kort has got us thinking on the subject of literary women whose stories deserve further exploration. What other strong female characters in literature deserve their own novels but as of yet haven’t been given one?
Alicia suggests; Hermione Granger (The Harry Potter series), Dasiy Buchanan (The Great Gatsby), Teresa Agnes (The Maze Runner), and Sam Dutton (The Perks of Being a Wallflower). These are all great suggestions, but at the Jane Austen News we can think of more than just the Bennet sisters who could fill a book of their own. The tale of Mrs Norris’s first love anyone?
Sense and Sensibility Too Sensible?
The New York theatre company Bedlam is staging a new adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, but rather than focusing primarily on the romance of the story, director and co-founder Eric Tucker wants to bring out the comedy within the novel that he feels is all too often overlooked.
To do this Tucker is making the play more minimalist and modern. He’s getting rid of detailed backdrops and putting wheels on all of the furniture so it can be easily moved, and used; when a young woman is fleeing social judgment she scoots away on a chair, only to be pursued by the gossips on their own mobile seating. Tucker uses physical theatre and a brisk pace to bring out the wit that he feels can be lost in a lot of adaptations.
A lot of the movie versions of Austen tamp down the comedy and make the stories period-piece melodrama. I didn’t want that. I wanted it to be raw and modern. One of the reviews said our ‘Sense and Sensibility’ was Dickensian. I liked that. Our production in New York was very bawdy, and it surprised people who thought they didn’t like Austen. But she was pretty wicked in her letters — very gossipy, saying the most awful things about people.
At the Jane Austen News we wish them the best of luck with their new production. Jane had so much wit and so many comedic moments in her novels and this is not always remembered; we think she’d approve.
What Made Colin Firth Reject Mark Darcy
With the recent UK release of Bridget Jones’s Baby, Colin Firth has been giving quite a few interviews to help promote the film, and, of course, in a fair few of them the subject of Mr Darcy comes up. One that caught our eye was an interview he gave to Eric Eisenberg for CinemaBlend.com. In the interview Firth talks about how, even following such amazing success with the 1995 BBC production of Pride and Prejudice where he played a modern traditional Darcy, he originally turned down the role of Mark Darcy who he plays in the Bridget Jones films.
I started off thinking there was no way in with that character. I originally turned it down, because I didn’t think… how do you play this guy who doesn’t do anything really? He just sort of stands around and scowls and looks imperious. And I thought, ‘Well, sure, I can do that, but will anyone give a damn? It’s not appealing!
Happily he kept the role in mind and eventually came round to the idea thinking:
‘Well, maybe there’s something fun in that. You don’t have to be charming. You just have to be incredibly distant and dislikable.’ And I thought, ‘That’s pretty liberating!’ So that was an incentive.
We didn’t know he’d turned the role down at first, but we’re glad he changed his mind! It’s hard to imagine the Bridget Jones films or the 1995 BBC production of Pride and Prejudice being such a success without him.
Unleashing Mr Darcy
And from one Mr Darcy to another.
Another modern film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice has been made and just released by Hallmark.
In this version of Pride & Prejudice, Elizabeth Scott (Cindy Busby) decides to show her Cavalier King Charles Spaniel in a dog show in New York, but she clashes with the arrogant judge Donovan Darcy (Ryan Paevey). In true Jane Austen fashion, Elizabeth learns that Mr. Darcy is far more kind and interesting than she ever imagined.
In this video Ryan Paevey talks about his views on Darcy, and just why his Darcy finds Lizzy so attractive and irritating. Some clips from the film and more details can be found here.
Love and Friendship
There’s less than a week to go before Whit Stillman’s film adaptation of Love and Friendship is released on DVD in the UK, and we can’t wait! It’s due out on Monday 26th September and we have the date marked on our calendar. Though if you’re a U.S. Jane Austen fan you don’t have to wait because the DVD came out in the U.S. on September 6th. We’re a little jealous…
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The Bethlem Royal Hospital is a hospital in London, United Kingdom for the treatment of mental illness, part of the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust. It has been known by various names including St Mary Bethlehem, Bethlem Hospital, Bethlehem Hospital and, informally and most notoriously, Bedlam.
Originally the hospital was near Bishopsgate just outside the walls of the City of London. It moved to Moorfields just outside the Moorgate in the 17th century, then to St George’s Fields in Southwark in the 19th century, before moving to its current location at Monks Orchard in West Wickham, in the London Borough of Bromley in 1930.
The word “bedlam”, meaning uproar and confusion, is derived from the hospital’s prior nickname. Although the hospital became a modern psychiatric facility, historically it was representative of the worst excesses of asylums in the era of lunacy reform.
At one point, the hospital, in an attempt to wring pity (and money) from wealthy donors, opened its doors to a steady stream of visitors.
The Governors actively sought out “people of note and quallitie” – the educated, wealthy and well-bred – as visitors. The limited evidence would suggest that they enjoyed some success in attracting such visitors of “quality”. In this elite and idealised model of charity and moral benevolence the necessity of spectacle, the showing of the mad so as to excite compassion, was a central component in the elicitation of donations, benefactions and legacies. Nor was the practice of showing the poor and unfortunate to potential donators exclusive to Bethlem as similar spectacles of misfortune were performed for public visitors to the Foundling Hospital and Magdalen Hospital for Penitent Prostitutes. The donations expected of visitors to Bethlem – there never was an official fee – probably grew out of the monastic custom of alms giving to the poor. While a substantial proportion of such monies undoubtedly found their way into the hands of staff rather than the hospital poors’ box, Bethlem profited considerably from such charity, collecting on average between £300 and £350 annually from the 1720s until the curtailment of visiting in 1770. Thereafter the poors’ box monies declined to about £20 or £30 per year.
Aside from its fund-raising function, the spectacle offered moral instruction for visiting strangers. For the “educated” observer Bedlam’s theatre of the disturbed might operate as a cautionary tale providing a deterrent example of the dangers of immorality and vice. The mad on display functioned as a moral exemplum of what might happen if the passions and appetites were allowed to dethrone reason. As one mid-eighteenth-century correspondent commented: “[there is no] better lesson [to] be taught us in any part of the globe than in this school of misery. Here we may see the mighty reasoners of the earth, below even the insects that crawl upon it; and from so humbling a sight we may learn to moderate our pride, and to keep those passions within bounds, which if too much indulged, would drive reason from her seat, and level us with the wretches of this unhappy mansion”.
Whether “persons of quality” or not, the primary allure for visiting strangers was neither moral edification nor the duty of charity but its entertainment value. In Roy Porter’s memorable phrase, what drew them “was the frisson of the freakshow”, where Bethlem was “a rare Diversion” to cheer and amuse. It became one of a series of destinations on the London tourist trail which included such sights as the Tower, the Zoo, Bartholomew Fair, London Bridge and Whitehall. Curiosity about Bethlem’s attractions, its “remarkable characters”, including figures such as Nathaniel Lee, the dramatist and Oliver Cromwell’s porter, Daniel, was, at least until the end of the eighteenth-century, quite a respectable motive for visiting.
From 1770 free public access ended with the introduction of a system whereby visitors required a ticket signed by a Governor. Visiting subjected Bethlem’s patients to many abuses, but its curtailment removed an important an element of public oversight. In the period thereafter, with staff practices less open to public scrutiny, the worst patient abuses occurred.
Despite the palatial pretensions, by the end of the eighteenth century it was suffering physical deterioration with uneven floors, buckling walls and a leaking roof. It resembled “a crazy carcass with no wall still vertical – a veritable Hogarthian auto-satire”. The financial cost of maintaining the Moorfields building was onerous and the capacity of the Governors to meet these demands was stymied by shortfalls in Bethlem’s income in the 1780s occasioned by the bankruptcy of its treasurer; further monetary strains were imposed in the following decade by inflationary wage and provision costs in the context of the Revolutionary wars with France. In 1791, Bethlem’s Surveyor, Henry Holland, presented a report to the Governors detailing an extensive list of the building’s deficiencies including structural defects and uncleanliness and estimated that repairs would take five years to complete at a cost of £8,660. Only a fraction of this sum was allocated and by the end of the decade it was clear that the problem had been largely unaddressed. Holland’s successor to the post of Surveyor, James Lewis, was charged in 1799 with compiling a new report on the building’s condition. Presenting his findings to the Governors the following year, Lewis declared the building “incurable” and opined that further investment in anything other than essential repairs would be financially imprudent. He was, however, careful to insulate the Governors from any criticism concerning Bethlem’s physical dilapidation as, rather than decrying either Hooke’s design or the structural impact of additions, he castigated the slipshod nature of its rapid construction. Lewis observed that it had been partly built on land called “the Town Ditch”, a receptacle for rubbish, and this provided little support for a building whose span extended to over 500 feet (150 m). He also noted that the brickwork was not on any foundation but laid “on the surface of the soil, a few inches below the present floor”, while the walls, overburdened by the weight of the roofs, were “neither sound, upright nor level”.
While the logic of Lewis’s report was clear, the Court of Governors, facing continuing financial difficulties, only resolved in 1803 behind the project of rebuilding on a new site, and a fund-raising drive was initiated in 1804. In the interim, attempts were made to rehouse patients at local hospitals and admissions to Bethlem, sections of which were deemed uninhabitable, were significantly curtailed such that the patient population fell from 266 in 1800 to 119 in 1814. Financial obstacles to the proposed move remained significant. A national press campaign to solicit donations from the public was launched in 1805. Parliament was successfully lobbied to provide £10,000 for the fund under an agreement whereby the Bethlem Governors would provide permanent accommodation for any lunatic soldiers or sailors of the French Wars. Early interest in relocating the hospital to a site at Gossey Fields had to be abandoned due to financial constraints and stipulations in the lease for Moorfields that precluded its resale. Instead, the Governors engaged in protracted negotiations with the City to swap the Moorfields site for another municipally owned location at St. George’s Fields in Southwark, south of the Thames. The swap was concluded in 1810 and provided the Governors with a 12 acres (4.9 ha; 0.019 sq mi) site in a swamp-like, impoverished, highly populated, and industrialised area where the Dog and Duck tavern and St George’s Spaw had been.
A competition was held to design the new hospital in which the noted Bethlem patient James Tilly Matthews was an unsuccessful entrant. The Governors elected to give James Lewis the task. Incorporating the best elements from the three winning competition designs, he produced a building in the neoclassical style that, while drawing heavily on Hooke’s original plan, eschewed the ornament of its predecessor. Completed after three years in 1815, it was constructed during the first wave of county asylum building in England under the County Asylum Act (“Wynn’s Act”) of 1808. Extending to 580 feet (180 m) in length, the new hospital, which ran alongside the Lambeth Road, consisted of a central block with two wings of three storeys on either side. Female patients occupied the west wing and males the east; as at Moorfields, the cells were located off galleries that traversed each wing. Each gallery contained only one toilet, a sink and cold baths. Incontinent patients were kept on beds of straw in cells in the basement gallery; this space also contained rooms with fireplaces for attendants. A wing for the criminally insane – a legal category created in the wake of the trial of a delusional James Hadfield for attempted regicide – was completed in 1816. This addition, which housed 45 men and 15 women, was wholly financed by the state.
The first 122 patients arrived in August 1815 having been transported to their new residence by a convoy of Hackney coaches. Problems with the building were soon noted as the steam heating did not function properly, the basement galleries were damp and the windows of the upper storeys were unglazed “so that the sleeping cells were either exposed to the full blast of cold air or were completely darkened”. Although glass was placed in the windows in 1816, the Governors initially supported their decision to leave them unglazed on the basis that it provided ventilation and so prevented the build-up of “the disagreable effluvias peculiar to all madhouses”. Faced with increased admissions and overcrowding, new buildings, designed by the architect Sydney Smirke, were added from the 1830s. The wing for criminal lunatics was increased to accommodate a further 30 men while additions to the east and west wings, extending the building’s facade, provided space for an additional 166 inmates and a dome, providing a much-needed touch of grandeur, was added to the hospital chapel. At the end of this period of expansion Bethlem had a capacity for 364 patients.
The late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries are typically seen as decisive in the emergence of new attitudes towards the management and treatment of the insane. Increasingly, the emphasis shifted from the external control of the mad through physical restraint and coercion to their moral management whereby self-discipline would be inculcated through a system of reward and punishment. For proponents of lunacy reform, the Quaker-run York Retreat, founded in 1796, functioned as an exemplar of this new approach that would seek to re-socialise and re-educate the mad. Bethlem, embroiled in scandal from 1814 over its inmate conditions, would come to symbolise its antithesis.
Through newspaper reports initially and then evidence given to the 1815 Parliamentary Committee on Madhouses, the state of inmate care in Bethlem was chiefly publicised by Edward Wakefield, a Quaker land agent and leading advocate of lunacy reform. He visited Bethlem several times during the late spring and early summer of 1814. His inspections were of the old hospital at the Moorfields site, which was then in a state of disrepair; much of it was uninhabitable and the patient population had been significantly reduced. Contrary to the tenets of moral treatment, Wakefield found that the patients in the galleries were not classified in any logical manner as both highly disturbed and quiescent patients were mixed together indiscriminately. Later, when reporting on the chained and naked state of many patients, Wakefield sought to describe their conditions in such a way as to maximise the horror of the scene while decrying the apparently bestial treatment of inmates and the thuggish nature of the asylum keepers.
Wakefield’s account focused on one patient in particular, James Norris, an American marine reported to be 55 years of age who had been detained in Bethlem since 1 February 1800. Housed in the incurable wing of the hospital, Norris had been continuously restrained for about a decade in a harness apparatus which severely restricted his movement. Wakefield stated that:
… a stout iron ring was riveted about his neck, from which a short chain passed to a ring made to slide upwards and downwards on an upright massive iron bar, more than six feet high, inserted into the wall. Round his body a strong iron bar about two inches wide was riveted; on each side of the bar was a circular projection, which being fashioned to and enclosing each of his arms, pinioned them close to his sides. This waist bar was secured by two similar iron bars which, passing over his shoulders, were riveted to the waist both before and behind. The iron ring about his neck was connected to the bars on his shoulders by a double link. From each of these bars another short chain passed to the ring on the upright bar … He had remained thus encaged and chained more than twelve years.
Wakefield’s revelations, combined with earlier reports about patient maltreatment at the York Asylum, helped to prompt a renewed campaign for national lunacy reform and the establishment of an 1815 House of Commons Select Committee on Madhouses, which examined the conditions under which the insane were confined in county asylums, private madhouses, charitable asylums and in the lunatic wards of Poor-Law workhouses.
In June 1816 Thomas Monro, Principal Physician, resigned as a result of scandal when he was accused of ‘wanting in humanity’ towards his patients.
In 1930, the hospital moved to an outer suburb of London, on the site of Monks Orchard House between Eden Park, Beckenham, West Wickham and Shirley. The old hospital and its grounds were bought by Lord Rothermere and presented to the London County Council for use as a park; the central part of the building was retained and became home to the Imperial War Museum in 1936.
Joseph Mallord William “J. M. W.” Turner, RA (baptised 14 May 1775 – 19 December 1851) was an English Romanticist landscape painter, water-colourist, and printmaker. Turner was considered a controversial figure in his day, but is now regarded as the artist who elevated landscape painting to an eminence rivalling history painting.Although renowned for his oil paintings, Turner is also one of the greatest masters of British watercolour landscape painting. He is commonly known as “the painter of light”and his work is regarded as a Romantic preface to Impressionism. Some of his works are cited as examples of abstract art prior to its recognition in the early 20th century.
Joseph Mallord William Turner was baptised on 14 May 1775, but his date of birth is unknown. It is generally believed he was born between late April and early May. Turner himself claimed he was born on 23 April, but there is no proof. He was born in Maiden Lane, Covent Garden, in London, England. His father, William Turner (1745–21 September 1829), was a barber and wig maker, His mother, Mary Marshall, came from a family of butchers. A younger sister, Mary Ann, was born in September 1778 but died in August 1783.
In 1785, due to his mother showing signs of the mental disturbance for which she was admitted first to St Luke’s Hospital for Lunatics in Old Street in 1799 and then Bethlem Hospital in 1800, the young Turner was sent to stay with his maternal uncle, Joseph Mallord William Marshall, in Brentford, then a small town on the banks of the River Thames west of London. From this period, the earliest known artistic exercise by Turner is found, a series of simple colourings of engraved plates from Henry Boswell’s Picturesque View of the Antiquities of England and Wales. Around 1786, Turner was sent to Margate on the north-east Kent coast. Here he produced a series of drawings of the town and surrounding area foreshadowing his later work. Turner returned to Margate many times in later life. By this time, Turner’s drawings were being exhibited in his father’s shop window and sold for a few shillings. His father boasted to the artist Thomas Stothard that: “My son, sir, is going to be a painter.” In 1789 Turner again stayed with his uncle, who had retired to Sunningwell in Berkshire (later, following the 1974 boundary changes, part of Oxfordshire). A whole sketchbook of work from this time in Berkshire survives, as well as a watercolour of Oxford. The use of pencil sketches on location as a basis for later finished paintings formed the basis of Turner’s essential working style for his whole career.
Many early sketches by Turner were architectural studies and/or exercises in perspective and it is known that as a young man he worked for several architects including Thomas Hardwick (junior), James Wyatt and Joseph Bonomi the Elder. By the end of 1789 he had also begun to study under the topographical draughtsman Thomas Malton, whom Turner would later call “My real master.” He entered the Royal Academy of Art schools in 1789, when he was 14 years old, and was accepted into the academy a year later. Sir Joshua Reynolds, president of the Royal Academy, chaired the panel that admitted him. At first Turner showed a keen interest in architecture but was advised to continue painting by the architect Thomas Hardwick. His first watercolour painting A View of the Archbishop’s Palace, Lambeth was accepted for the Royal Academy summer exhibition of 1790 when Turner was 15.
As a probationer in the academy, he was taught drawing from plaster casts of antique sculptures and his name appears in the registry of the academy over a hundred times from July 1790 to October 1793. In June 1792, he was admitted to the life class to learn to draw the human body from nude models. Turner exhibited watercolours each year at the academy – travelling in the summer and painting in the winter. He travelled widely throughout Britain, particularly to Wales, and produced a wide range of sketches for working up into studies and watercolours. These particularly focused on architectural work, which utilised his skills as a draughtsman. In 1793, he showed a watercolour titled The Rising Squall – Hot Wells from St Vincent’s Rock Bristol (now lost) that foreshadowed his later climatic effects. Cunningham in his obituary of Turner wrote that it was: “recognised by the wiser few as a noble attempt at lifting landscape art out of the tame insipidities…[and] evinced for the first time that mastery of effect for which he is now justly celebrated.”
Turner exhibited his first oil painting at the academy in 1796, Fishermen at Sea: a nocturnal moonlit scene of The Needles, which lie off the Isle of Wight. The image of boats in peril contrasts the cold light of the moon with the firelight glow of the fishermen’s lantern. Wilton said that the image: “Is a summary of all that had been said about the sea by the artists of the eighteenth century.” and shows strong influence by artists such as Horace Vernet, Philip James de Loutherbourg, Peter Monamy and Francis Swaine, who was admired for his moonlight marine paintings. This particular painting cannot be said to show any influence of Willem van de Velde the Younger, as not a single nocturnal scene is known by that painter. Some later work, however, as shown below, was created to rival or complement the manner of the Dutch artist. The image was praised by contemporary critics and founded Turner’s reputation, both as an oil painter and as a painter of maritime scenes.
Turner travelled widely in Europe, starting with France and Switzerland in 1802 and studying in the Louvre in Paris in the same year. He made many visits to Venice. On a visit to Lyme Regis, in Dorset, he painted a stormy scene (now in the Cincinnati Art Museum).
Important support for his work came from Walter Ramsden Fawkes, of Farnley Hall, near Otley in Yorkshire, who became a close friend of the artist. Turner first visited Otley in 1797, aged 22, when commissioned to paint watercolours of the area. He was so attracted to Otley and the surrounding area that he returned to it throughout his career. The stormy backdrop of Hannibal Crossing The Alps is reputed to have been inspired by a storm over the Chevin in Otley while he was staying at Farnley Hall.
Turner was a frequent guest of George O’Brien Wyndham, 3rd Earl of Egremont, at Petworth House in West Sussex and painted scenes that Egremont funded taken from the grounds of the house and of the Sussex countryside, including a view of the Chichester Canal. Petworth House still displays a number of paintings.
As Turner grew older, he became more eccentric. He had few close friends except for his father, who lived with him for 30 years and worked as his studio assistant. His father’s death in 1829 had a profound effect on him, and thereafter he was subject to bouts of depression. He never married but had a relationship with an older widow, Sarah Danby. He is believed to have been the father of her two daughters born in 1801 and 1811.
Later he had a relationship with Sophia Caroline Booth, after her second husband died, living for about 18 years as ‘Mr Booth’ in her house in Chelsea.
Like many of the day, Turner was a habitual user of snuff; in 1838 the King of France, Louis-Philippe, presented a gold snuff box to him. Of two other snuffboxes, an agate and silver example bears Turner’s name, and another, made of wood, was collected along with his spectacles, magnifying glass and card case by an associate house keeper.
Turner died in the house of his lover Sophia Caroline Booth in Cheyne Walk in Chelsea on 19 December 1851, and is said to have uttered the last words “The sun is God”. At his request he was buried in St Paul’s Cathedral, where he lies next to Sir Joshua Reynolds. His last exhibition at the Royal Academy was in 1850.
Turner’s friend, architect Philip Hardwick (1792–1870), son of his tutor, Thomas Hardwick, was in charge of making the funeral arrangements and wrote to those who knew Turner to tell them at the time of his death that, “I must inform you, we have lost him.” Other executors were his cousin and chief mourner at the funeral, Henry Harpur IV (benefactor of Westminster – now Chelsea & Westminster – Hospital), Revd. Henry Scott Trimmer, George Jones RA and Charles Turner ARA.
Turner’s talent was recognised early in his life. Financial independence allowed Turner to innovate freely; his mature work is characterised by a chromatic palette and broadly applied atmospheric washes of paint. According to David Piper’s The Illustrated History of Art, his later pictures were called “fantastic puzzles.” However, Turner was recognised as an artistic genius: the influential English art critic John Ruskin described him as the artist who could most “stirringly and truthfully measure the moods of Nature.”
Suitable vehicles for Turner’s imagination were found in shipwrecks, fires (such as the burning of Parliament in 1834, an event which Turner rushed to witness first-hand, and which he transcribed in a series of watercolour sketches), natural catastrophes, and natural phenomena such as sunlight, storm, rain, and fog. He was fascinated by the violent power of the sea, as seen in Dawn after the Wreck (1840) and “The Slave Ship” (1840).
Turner’s major venture into printmaking was the Liber Studiorum (Book of Studies), seventy prints that he worked on from 1806 to 1819. The Liber Studiorum was an expression of his intentions for landscape art. Loosely based on Claude Lorrain’s Liber Veritatis (Book of Truth), the plates were meant to be widely disseminated, and categorised the genre into six types: Marine, Mountainous, Pastoral, Historical, Architectural, and Elevated or Epic Pastoral. His printmaking was a major part of his output, and a museum is devoted to it, the Turner Museum in Sarasota, Florida, founded in 1974 by Douglass Montrose-Graem to house his collection of Turner prints.
Turner placed human beings in many of his paintings to indicate his affection for humanity on the one hand (note the frequent scenes of people drinking and merry-making or working in the foreground), but its vulnerability and vulgarity amid the ‘sublime’ nature of the world on the other. ‘Sublime’ here means awe-inspiring, savage grandeur, a natural world unmastered by man, evidence of the power of God – a theme that romanticist artists and poets were exploring in this period. To Turner, light was the emanation of God’s spirit and this was why he focused the subject matter of his later paintings by leaving out distractions such as solid objects and detail, concentrating on the play of light on water, the radiance of skies and fires. Although these late paintings appear to be ‘impressionistic’ and therefore a forerunner of the French school, Turner was striving for expression of spirituality in the world, rather than responding primarily to optical phenomena.
His early works, such as Tintern Abbey (1795), stayed true to the traditions of English landscape. However, in Hannibal Crossing the Alps (1812), an emphasis on the destructive power of nature had already come into play. His distinctive style of painting, in which he used watercolour technique with oil paints, created lightness, fluency, and ephemeral atmospheric effects.
In his later years he used oils ever more transparently, and turned to an evocation of almost pure light by use of shimmering colour. A prime example of his mature style can be seen in Rain, Steam and Speed – The Great Western Railway, where the objects are barely recognisable. The intensity of hue and interest in evanescent light not only placed Turner’s work in the vanguard of English painting, but exerted an influence on art in France; the Impressionists, particularly Claude Monet, carefully studied his techniques.
Turner used pigments like carmine in his paintings, knowing that they were not long-lasting, despite the advice of contemporary experts to use more durable pigments. As a result, many of his colours have now faded greatly. John Ruskin complained at how quickly Turner’s work decayed; Turner was indifferent to posterity and chose materials that looked good when freshly applied. By 1930 there was concern that both his oils and his watercolours were fading.
High levels of ash in the atmosphere during 1816, the “Year Without a Summer”, led to unusually spectacular sunsets during this period, and were an inspiration for some of Turner’s work.
John Ruskin says in his “Notes” on Turner in March 1878, that an early patron, Dr Thomas Monro, the Principal Physician of Bedlam, was a significant influence on Turner’s style:
His true master was Dr Monro; to the practical teaching of that first patron and the wise simplicity of method of watercolour study, in which he was disciplined by him and companioned by Giston, the healthy and constant development of the greater power is primarily to be attributed; the greatness of the power itself, it is impossible to over-estimate.
On a trip to Europe, circa 1820, he met the Irish physician Robert James Graves. Graves was travelling in a diligence in the Alps when a man who looked like the mate of a ship got in, sat beside him, and soon took from his pocket a note-book across which his hand from time to time passed with the rapidity of lightning. Graves wondered if the man was insane, he looked, saw that the stranger had been noting the forms of clouds as they passed and that he was no common artist. The two travelled and sketched together for months. Graves tells that Turner would outline a scene, sit doing nothing for two or three days, then suddenly, “perhaps on the third day, he would exclaim ‘there it is’, and seizing his colours work rapidly till he had noted down the peculiar effect he wished to fix in his memory.”
The first American to buy a Turner painting was James Lenox of New York City, a private collector. Lenox wished to own a Turner and in 1845 bought one unseen through an intermediary, his friend C. R. Leslie. From among the paintings Turner had on hand and was willing to sell for £500, Leslie selected and shipped the 1832 atmospheric seascape Staffa, Fingal’s Cave. Worried about the painting’s reception by Lenox, who knew Turner’s work only through etchings, Leslie wrote to Lenox that the quality of Staffa, “a most poetic picture of a steam boat” would become apparent in time. On receiving the painting Lenox was baffled, and “greatly disappointed” by what he called the painting’s “indistinctness”. When Leslie was forced to relay this opinion to Turner, Turner said “You should tell Mr Lenox that indistinctness is my forte.” Staffa, Fingal’s Cave is now owned by the Yale Center for British Art.