Tony Grist (poliphilo) wrote,
Tony Grist

Mr Turner

Leigh's people have real hair and real skin and their clothes have been washed- but not very often- by hand. They speak in a medley of regional accents, with a lovely mix of orotundity and slang. And they are all busy pushing an image of themselves out into the world- every man Jack or woman Jill- pushing to be noticed- pushing to assert themselves as "characters".

This is the 19th century as Dickens saw it. And if it wasn't like this it should have been.

And Turner himself? Half bull or bear or truffling pig and half angel. That's the human condition, is it not, to be something rather fine that is having to accomodate itself to a world of appetites and microbes? The aim is survival and maybe a little more; to let in some light- like Turner himself painting his rising and setting suns, or his lover Mrs Booth shining up the window glass in her glossy front door. Some make a better fist of it than others. Some are born to sweet delight, some are born to endless night. Turner's housekeeper, for instance- abused,overlooked, her creeping psoriasis the outward and visible sign of her despair- what has she achieved? Well she has cast a critical eye. She has seen something of the truth. She has- finally- outlived him.

"It will come," says Turner to the young Mrs Ruskin. "Love will come." He's gross and drunk but he has divined her secret. And- if we're up to speed on our art history- we know that he has told her true..

The famous anecdotes pock the duff like plums. Here's Constable finicking away with the red paint in his overworked monster picture of a Thames regatta and in comes Turner and settles his hash by daubing his own luminous seascape with a dab of vermillion. "He has been in here and fired a gun" says Constable, throwing up his hands and exiting in a huff. The Queen no less- one of the few thoroughly clean people on show- pronounces Turner's visionary picture of sea monsters a "horrid yellow mess". Turner has himself tied to the mast of a ship to experience a snow storm and half kills himself with bronchitis. He rises from his death bed to sketch the drowned girl who has fetched up under his Thames-side window.

And then the last words- the most famous last words uttered by any artist.  "The sun is God." Throaty chuckle. Lights out. Make of them what you will.
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