Saturday, February 08, 2020

J. M. W. Turner Watercolors Mystic Seaport Museum Mystic, Connecticut 06355

J. M. W. Turner Watercolors
Mystic Seaport Museum
Mystic, Connecticut 06355
Thursday through Sunday, 10-5 until February 23

This exhibit of Turner’s works may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us to enjoy the visual equivalent of sitting in the corner of a music studio listening to (pick your composer – Beethoven – Mozart – Paganini –…) practice and compose. I say maybe once-in-a-lifetime because these Turner’s so rarely travel from the Tate in London and this will be their only venue in the United States this trip and who knows when they might come again.

Turner was a prodigy who enrolled in the Royal Academy of Art at 14 and was included in their annual exhibition at 15. When he died 61 years later he left over 500 oils, 2000 watercolors and 30,000 works on paper. He was famously eccentric; when he chose his pigments he was interested in color and not in longevity, so much of his work is at risk of fading if exposed to light, which is one reason the Tate so rarely allows them to travel. We have this opportunity because the gallery at Mystic Seaport’s North Gate was designed so that it might safely display the Turner’s.

But enough of those sorts of details; if you feel the need for more of them, the review by Murray Whyte in the Globe would be a good place to start; the digital reproductions of the Turners in the online version are much better than those in the paper but no substitute for the real thing.

However, given the rare opportunity to witness these watercolors, which this exhibition affords, I suggest they should be approached in the romantic spirit with which they were executed. Don't drive down and arrive with your mind buzzed out by the realities of Expressways and Interstates; instead, use public transportation and travel with a compatible companion to arrive with your mind quiet, engaged and open for what these Turner’s have to show us.

My sister and I chose the Northeast Regional 93 (let us mourn for a moment the romantic past when it was The Shoreline of the NYNH&H and the trains had names like "The Owl"); it left the Back Bay about 9:30 and deposited us in Mystic an hour and 20 minutes later. The museum was a pleasant three quarters of a mile walk north, so we arrived at the gallery relaxed, warmed up and ready to receive. When we filled up on a first course of the Turners we paused for a light lunch (at Latitude 41 right next door) and conversation to digest what we had just seen. Then back to the museum for another helping, which we followed with a leisurely mile walk north to get the local bus to New London where we would catch the Northeast Regional 174 for our return.

Standing on the platform as our train approached, we shared an appreciation of the “Turner Sunset,” to which we were being treated. Turner had taught us, Turner was teaching us, how to look at the world, how to see.

--Wendell Smith

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