by Olivia Greenway
It shouldn’t work but it does, admirably. The exhibition has been to Stockholm, moved to Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart (where I saw it) and ends up at Tate Liverpool on 22 June until 28 October. In Stuttgart, it’s been a runaway success, with an estimated 100,000 visitors so far.
Turner lived until he was 73, Monet until he was 88 and Twombly notched up 83 years. One of the most interesting aspects of all three is that they all worked until just before they died and lived long, art-filled lives. Retirement was not an option for any of them; they loved their art too much. If contentment and longevity are related, these three men appear to prove the point.
The exhibition is divided into several themes and features over 60 pieces. The paintings have been gathered together from across Europe and beyond, and some, especially Twombly’s, from private collections.
The exhibition examines common motivations that underlie their later styles. These cover darker themes such as melancholy, loss and death but also show the artists’ undimmed creativity and enthusiasm for experimentation. Twombly’s obsessive use of bright colour characterises his later work and his blooms from 2007, never seen in the UK before are here, as are his huge ‘Seasons’ pieces, the highlight of the show for me; Monet’s magnificent five water lily studies, never seen together in the UK are also exhibited; Turner’s darker images – including ‘Peace - Burial at Sea’ is also included.
Joseph Mallord William Turner, one of Britain’s most famous landscape painters, was born in London in 1775. He trained as a draughtsman but was accepted at the Royal Academy, showing his work in 1790. The next year, Turner started to travel around England and Wales, sketching landscapes. In 1802, he visited Europe. In the 1830s, Turner returned to Margate, his childhood home, moving back to London in his final years. Despite his increasing age, his output during this time was considerable, contemporaries claiming he worked on several canvases at once. He went down with cholera and recovered but it weakened him. He died later the following year in 1851.
Claude Monet was born in Paris in 1840. Monet took drawing lessons from an early age. In 1861 he was conscripted into the African cavalry for seven years but his aunt purchased an exemption. He returned to Paris and devoted himself to art. The threat of war with Prussia and possible conscription, led Monet to flee to London with his first wife, Camille. Monet travelled extensively through France and Europe in the following years, but settled in Giverny, 75km or so north west of Paris, near the Seine. In 1900, he moved to London for a year to paint views of the Thames, taking a room at the Savoy. In 1908, he started work on his water lily motifs, taking inspiration from his beloved garden at Giverny. In 1911, his second wife, Alice died and Monet was consumed with grief. He was also diagnosed with cataracts in both eyes. He worked intensively on his water lily paintings until his death in 1925.
‘Cy’ Twombly was born in Lexington, Virginia in 1928. Twombly studied art from an early age, a travel grant from Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in 1952 enabling him to visit Italy. After periods in Virginia and New York, he returned to Italy in 1957 and remained there for most of his life, travelling extensively to new places, but making regular trips to Virginia. He married an Italian, Tatiana Franchetti in 1959. Twombly’s art became increasingly desirable and collectable, with several major exhibitions, a retrospective at Tate Modern, London in 2008 being one. He died in 2011, just before this exhibition was first staged.
A handsome hardback book (catalogue) accompanies the exhibition – a fascinating guide that would grace any coffee table with full colour illustrations. Sold out in Stockholm, it’s best to try to get it before you attend the exhibition if you can, as it’s packed with information that will help you to appreciate both the artists, their work and background to the exhibition. Priced at £25, it’s a steal.
Although the exhibition covers some dark themes, at the same time, it is also an exhibition bursting with life. A stunning display, it is well worth attending.
Tate Liverpool is near Albert Dock. The nearest station is St James, which is a short walk away. There are regular connections from Liverpool Lime Street Mainline station to St James, for the short journey. Open every day.
Exhibition admission: £12.00 Rest of Tate free.