Tuesday, 25 August 2009
Fun Facts about Amazing Artists No. 2
Joseph Mallard William Turner has always been a particular favourite of mine, perhaps because his magnificent painting Rain Steam and Speed: The Great Western Railway was in one of my books on railways that I loved as a child.
Turner was quite an adventurous painter, in every sense. The way he painted was experimental and advanced for his time. But he also, famously, tied himself to a ship at sea to witness a storm over the waves first hand. Another story, about Rain Steam and Speed, goes like this:
A woman on a railway journey - which in those days was considered an adventure in itself - observed an artist craning his neck to take in a particular view, sketch-book in hand. She followed him, and saw a scene of steam and rain and light. Some time later, in 1844, she was astonished to see a contraversial new painting of that very scene at the Royal Academy of Art by none other than Turner! Excited to have shared her carriage with the great artist, she chastised certain critics whom she overheard criticising Turner's picture, considering his attempts at light and rain to be ridiculously unrealistic. She described her journey with Turner and how she had witnessed the scene first hand (which is thought to be a view over the river Thames near Maidenhead).
I have no idea if all this is true and I cannot remember where I first heard this story...but it's worth telling, just for the fun of it. Another interesting thing about this painting, which is in the National Gallery in London, is the hare which runs in front of the train. It is hard to spot in the original (and a bit easier to see in my illustration here!) but it is definitely there, perhaps a symbol of speed for this extraordinary newfangled machine. People thought they would die of shock when they first travelled by rail. Certainly they would have arrived filthy: many early trains - like this one - had opened topped carriages!