Monday, May 16, 2016

J.M.W. TURNER'S WHALING PAINTINGS at the Met: Reiew by Polly Guerin

Whalers ca. 1845
The exhibition of Turner's Whaling pictures at the Metropolitan Museum of Art---the brooding, mysterious depictions of whalers and whaling---is not the subject that would entice most visitors. However, it is the first exhibition to unite the series of four whaling scenes painted by the great British artist, Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) near the end of his career.
     To the cognoscenti, who know a thing or two about these paintings, there is the glimmer of recognition that Turner's paintings inspired the epic story, Moby Dick.
     The quartet of paintings---comprising the Met's Whalers (circa. 1845) and its three companions from Tate Britain---were among the last seascapes exhibited by Turner, for whom marine subjects were  a creative mainstay. The topic of whaling resonated with some of Turner's favorite themes, modern maritime labor, Britain's global naval empire, human ambition and frailty, and the awesome power of nature termed the Sublime.

THE MELVILLE CONNECTION: Turner's whaling pictures offers a unique opportunity to consider the painting's impact on Herman Melville's epic novel Moby Dick, published months before Turner's death in 1851.  It is not certain that Melville saw the paintings when he first visited London in 1849, but he was unquestionably aware of them.  Aspects of Melville's novel remain strikingly evocative of Turner's style. 
      In addition to the four paintings that are on view, a selection of related watercolors, prints, books, and wall quotes is displayed and offers the insight into Turner's paintings and their possible relationship with Melville's text. A whaling harpoon on loan from the South Street Seaport Museum, and whale oil lamps from The Met's collection are also on view. 
     The exhibition is accompanied by a Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin entitled Turner's Whaling Pictures written by Alison Hokanson. It is on sale in the Museum's book shop and at the Met store
     Educational programs include a gallery reading of excerpts from Moby Dick on July 8 and a a Picture This! program on June 16 for visitors who are blind or partially blind.

This exhibition allows viewers to engage closely with the output of these two great 19th-century artists and to assess for themselves whether the British painter inspired one of the crowning achievements of American literature. Additional information about the exhibition and its accompanying programs is available on the Museum's website,, as well as Instagram and Twitter using #MetTurner.
    Ta Ta Darlings!!!  I suggest that you take along a magnifying glass to view these moody, mysterious paintings and you just might catch a whale or two yourself. Fan mail welcome, I love to hear from my readers  To view Polly's Blogs go to and in the left-hand column is a link to other Blogs including visionary men, women determined to succeed, poetry, and fashion.
    The image left: W.W. Turner as a young man.

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