Turner Whistler Monet

I went to Turner Whistler Monet at the Tate today.

The three artists are brought together because of shared interest in light, water, and shared subject matter – the Thames and Venice. Turner was an influence on the later two, as well.

It’s hard not to think of it as Turner vs Whistler vs Monet. In which case I think Whistler would win, on the basis of the paintings on display – though I have seen more impressive Turners and Monets in other exhibitions. Whistler’s ‘nocturnes’ were fab – very controlled, very simple, but absorbing. Monet came out worst; compared to the Whistlers and Turners, the fussiness of his brushwork seemed distracting, the colours bordered on the vulgar and the composition seemed a bit haphazard. Having said that, when the Monets were just right – or when I was in a more receptive frame of mind – they were lovely.

I went to have a look at the other Tate Turners later, and it’s really only the late paintings that invite comparison with Impressionists. The interest in light and atmosphere is clearly there in the early stuff, but he hasn’t developed the extraordinary colour-handling yet, and isn’t willing to let the light effects take over the painting to the point that they become the subject. It’s quite interesting that some of the late paintings that most interested the Impressionists are actually unfinished; he worked by laying down all the expanse of colours, then adding some details at the end to turn the painting into a lake scene, or Venice or whatever – but quite a lot survive which are just arrangements of colour. Even when he’d finished them, he didn’t always add very much, so it would be interesting to know what he’d think of people admiring them as paintings in their own right.

The TWM exhibition had some information about Mallarm