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This article by Carolyn Foote Edelmann was prepared for the August 6, 2003 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Amid the Mountains, Vivid Seascapes
Harvard graduate, Henry David Thoreau, visiting Williams
College, announced: "It would be no small advantage if every college
were located thus at the base of a mountain, as good at least as one
endowed professorship — Some will remember, no doubt, not only
that they went to college, but that they went to the mountain."
There is more to Williamstown, Massachusetts, these days than its
ring of brooding peaks. The Sterling and Francine Clark Institute
of Art currently surrounds visitors with a rich collection of seascapes
by Joseph Mallord William Turner. This apocalyptic visionary lived
in England from the time of our Revolution until the eve of our Civil
War. Revolutionary in his own way, Turner attained levels of abstraction
and luminosity achieved by few in any century. And nowhere more so
than in the oils and watercolors depicting his "magnificent obsession",
the sea. The Clark, these days, is flooded with limpid light, even
when surrounded by fog and downpour.
You may insist, as friends have done, "I know my Turners."
Of course you do, especially if you have visited London’s Tate Gallery
and Yale’s Center for British Art. (Our Metropolitan Museum in New
York does not do him justice.) Yet there has been no major exhibit
of his work in America for over 20 years. It is possible that the
sea as theme is unique to the Clark. I guarantee you have never seen
this constellation of Turners, and won’t again unless you follow them
to Glasgow later this year. They are significant not only for the
challenge of their theme, but for depth and breadth of the lending
The artistic emphasis of Williams College, (chartered 1793) —
coupled with the generosity of Singer heir Sterling Clark and his
French bride, Francine — has given this Berkshire village one
of the highest museum-to-student ratios in the country. If this exhibit
intensifies art cravings, you may stroll over to nearby Williams College
Art Museum for its varied collection. It specializes in American art
and too many [Maurice] Prendergasts. And beyond that to Mass MOCA
in North Adams, but that’s another story.
The Clark may be America’s only museum where you can lace on hiking
boots for a dawn trek before its 10 a.m. opening. They say everyone
in town lives within a mile of a significant trail. This museum is
no exception. On my Turner Day, I ascended and partially descended
the mountain in its own back yard. Within boreal forest, a cairn-marked
crossroads led to the famous Stone Bench, facing west. Fog was so
dense that I was walking in clouds through an old-growth hemlock wood.
A cattle gate led into a meadow, knee-deep in clover and buttercups.
To my left, a golden deer — young and slender as those Turner
painted at Petworth — nibbled wildflowers. I lifted my gaze to
lavender peaks, suddenly emerged — all save Mt. Greylock, still
sporting gray locks. I could have been in Switzerland.
Instead, within moments, I had talked my way into the Clark, although
the new Turner exhibit was open only to people of the region until
its June 14 opening. I wondered whether people who live ringed by
mountains long for the sea, as I climbed the broad gray staircase
to "Turner, The Late Seascapes."
For me, the best Turners are the late ones. Most in this exhibit date
from the 1830s and ’40s. Museum literature describes them as "among
the most radiant of the 19th century." Scenes are juxtaposed here
that have not hung together since the artist added last touches on
his studio walls, even at exhibits in patrons’ homes!
Although this man ascribed to no labels, let alone movements, some
term him an Impressionist, albeit a century ahead of his time. Except
that few Impressionists attained this level of luminosity, let alone
the profundity which is Turner’s hallmark.
The artist was mocked in his time for using "too much yellow."
A biting cartoon showed the man wielding a hefty housepainter’s brush,
slathering a billboard-sized landscape, from a huge bucket marked
"YELLOW" in very large letters. This may explain his later
"incarnadine" skies flaming behind the floundering slave ship.
In the words of T. S. Eliot, J. M. W. Turner "had such a vision
of the world as the world hardly understands."
Neither the generous catalog nor the thorough information
packet addresses the man’s spiritual quest. Yet, what Turner conveys
in these tumultuous scenes of sky and water, and, yes, mountains,
soars beyond earth elements. He could be saying, "I am Lazarus,
come back from the dead, come back to tell you all."
In his day, quintessential critic/tastemaker John Ruskin, virtually
deified JMWT as "the greatest landscape painter who ever lived."
Yet, two years later, Turner’s metaphysical explorations had confounded
even Ruskin. Others, less erudite, scoffed at the late work as "soapsuds
and whitewash," "freaks of chromomania."
The exhibit catalog is eminently worth purchasing, for quality and
quantity — as well as juxtapositions — of scholarly text and
glimmering paintings. However, I take exception to its repeated description
of Turner’s seas as his `stage.’ The metaphor is too static for the
throbbing scenes arrayed across the Clark’s dove-gray walls.
Partly because some canvases have been loaned by museums I have not
visited (Manchester City Galleries in England and the Kimball Art
Museum in Fort Worth, Texas), encountering these scenes brought on
serious weakness of the knees. From the very first work, "Now
for the Painter (Rope)" (1827), the viewer is awash in radiant
peril. People subject to mal-de-mer may have to exercise caution.
Turner’s long titles merit study. He was recognized as a poet in his
day. Therefore, the pun of "painter" refers to the man with
the brush, as well as to that frail rope tethering a wave-tossed boat
of terrified passengers to the ship leaving Calais for England.
Turner’s seascapes can involve sharp and studied reality, as well
as dizzying abstraction. They move beyond the real, transmitting the
cataclysmic: shipwreck, whaling, man’s inhumanity to slaves, and everyone’s
vulnerability before "the briny deep." James Hamilton, guest
curator (whom museum guests are privileged to "meet" in a
short intense video) asserts that "Turner articulated and launched
upon seas of his own making."
That same video bring us British restorer, David Bull, in Manhattan,
involved with the Clark’s own painting, "Rockets and Blue Lights
(Close at Hand) to Warn Steamboats of Shoal Water" (1840). A purchase
of Sterling Clark’s, this work had been defaced by a tornado-like
gray cloud off-center. Inappropriate additions of paint and varnish
had subtracted from Turner’s vision. The much-traveled painting had
even been damaged in a train/truck collision within the artist’s lifetime.
Wounds and travesties have been painstakingly researched and removed
by Bull. In the film, we become voyeurs of resurrection. "He was
a feisty man, was Turner," Bull reveals with a chuckle, referring
to those in-exhibit alterations with the man’s own brush. The work
positively shimmers in its pivotal setting at the Clark. What I wouldn’t
give to hear "Sterling and Francine’s" reactions to the changes.
Throughout his career, fully one-third of JMWT’s work featured the
sea. However, in his final decades, the ocean became prime subject.
It could be that the aging artist, contemplating Charon’s ferrying
of souls, pictured that body of water as the sea rather than a mere
Turner was an artist of senses beyond sight. In his tiny but monumental
watercolor, "Goldau," one almost hears thunder echoes of a
mountain avalanche. In "Swiss Pass," the viewer seems cleansed
by the mist of Turner’s towering falls. The impulse to reach out and
touch, if not tug ashore, is triggered by scenes of shipwreck; especially
those stark black groping arms, slaves thrown overboard to lighten
The subjects of Turner’s vivid fish studies in watercolor (mackerel,
gurnard, to say nothing of whales and whimsical sea creatures) seem
to flip audibly, with all the energy of morning’s catch in Provencal
markets. Then Turner turns around to streak a pale ship before a paler
sky with all the subtlety of a John Marin.
The major treat of the Clark lies in the depth and richness of its
permanent collection. So guests can move from salt-drenched Turner
rooms to throbbing Winslow Homer watercolors. Prout’s Neck, Maine’s
ruddy sunsets, greenish summer squalls — and especially those
half-drowned women dragged ashore by rescuers — tie right in with
the morning’s maritime preoccupations. Cutting around the corner,
one can study what Corot, Boudin, and Jongkind did with wind and waves
in France. Their scenes evoke seas studded with Etretat’s pierced
headlands, frigates, fishing boats, and the wharves of Normandy. It
is sobering to realize that these artists worked their plein-air magic
lengthy decades after Turner relinquished his brushes for the last
time, in 1851.
Paintings and exhibit materials stress that Turner revered and richly
learned from Dutch landscapes in general and van Ruisdael in particular.
At the Clark, one stands in a windowed gallery looking out on a Monet
lily pond to study the Dutch artist’s "Landscape with Bridge,
Cattle and Figures." Water is missing, but precision and luminosity
are electrifyingly present. Turner’s "The Vale of Ashburnham"
— an 1816 watercolor from the British Museum in London — could
be a twin to the Van Ruisdael, lacking only bridge.
In "my book" (the same sense I have when visiting the Barnes
Foundation in nearby Marion, Pennsylvania) the Clark holds too many
Renoirs. That is, except for "Onions" — which that artist
probably painted because his maids and cooks were chosen only for
the way light danced from Provencal olive leaves onto their skin.
No skin has ever surpassed those onions, Sterling Clark’s favorite
But go, instead, for the Toulouse-Lautrecs (even though they cache
some of their best) and Gauguin’s solid "Pont Avon" peasant
in her butter-yellow dress. The Clark’s two rare Ghirlandaios —
father and son — flanking a majestic Piero della Francesca, are
certainly "worthy of the journey" on their own.
The Clark is brilliant — as with last year’s Gustav Klimt Landscape
exhibition — at weaving in regional events coordinated to their
blockbuster show. Most are free and open to the public: from regular
gallery talks, through "Britannia Rules the Waves" film series,
to a British Seaside Family Day (with jugglers, hornpipes, and clog
dancing). A pricey weekend course, September 6 and 7, presents "The
Lonely Sea and the Sky" (British poet, John Masefield’s domain)
to members for $400; non-members for $500 (firstname.lastname@example.org).
If all this is not gratification enough, you can stop by the Clark’s
information desk; request that unique commodity — the Museum Trail
Guide. Just beyond its gate beckon Hopkins Forest Trail, Pine Cobble,
and Greylock Glen.
The Nature Conservancy writes of the ocean as "the living system
that embraces 97 percent of Earth’s water, drives climate and weather,
shapes planetary chemistry, regulates temperature, and generates more
than 70 percent of the oxygen in the atmosphere. The ocean houses
most of life on Earth, every spoonful filled with living creatures.
The ocean is the cornerstone of Earth’s life-support system."
For Joseph Mallord William Turner, his ocean obsession bore him beyond
creativity to the threshold of creation itself. For this artist in
all years — but especially "the late" — the sea became
excuse for numinousness.
Art Institute, 225 South Street, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 413-458-2303.
Website: www.clarkart.edu. Open daily, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission
$10 adults; students and children under 18 free.
through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday 1 to 5 p.m. Highlights
tours every Saturday at 2 p.m. "In Pursuit of the Past: Provenance
Research at the Princeton University Art Museum," a behind-the-scenes
look at the research methods used to trace the history of works of
art focusing on issues related to ownership and collecting; to August
"Brave New World: 20th-Century Books from the Cotsen Children’s
Library," an exhibition that fills the library’s main gallery
and the Milberg Gallery upstairs.
609-895-5589. Student art exhibition, work by 60 students from a variety
of majors. Gallery hours are Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to
7 p.m.; Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. To September 12.
"Chinese Opera," a traveling exhibition designed for adults
and children, gives an overview of the art. Exhibits on the use of
face makeup, props, pantomime, costumes, and musical instruments.
Authentic costumes of two important Chinese opera characters are featured.
General Guan Yu is a popular historical character who lived during
the Han Dynasty. Also featured is Sun Yu Jiao, the young maiden,
from the well-known opera, "The Jade Bracelet." Jing Wei,
a reknowned calligrapher in China, painted the characters for the
exhibit’s title panel as well as the names of the two characters featured
in the exhibit. co-sponsored by the Newark Museum and the Middlesex
County Cultural and Heritage Commission. On view through August 8.
Shared show of photography: "Night Light" by Mary Julia Kephart,
and "Infinities" by Coleen Marks. Gallery hours are Saturday
and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m., and by appointment. To August 24.
Avenue, Mercerville, 609-689-1089. Barbara Schaff, series of paintings
of orchids. To September 14.
"Watercolor Anarchy II," a group show of watercolors by Gail
Bracegirdle and seven of her students. Open Tuesday through Friday,
10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. To August 30.
Students participating in the exhibit include Carol Bleistein, Lawrenceville;
Ron Flegel, Monmouth Junction; Ruth Kaufman, Princeton; Robin L. Murray,
Trenton; Lionel Scriven, Lambertville; Kinga Soni, Plainsboro; and
Chari Wurtzel, Horsham, Pennsylvania.
609-921-3272. Princeton Artists Alliance show features drawings, paintings,
prints, mixed media, handmade paper, fibers, photography, and sculpture.
Exhibit and sale through August 24.
Dorothy Wells Bissell (Dottie) was a charter member of the Princeton
Artists Alliance founded in 1989 by professional artists. She will
be leaving for California to be near her family in the near future.
A special room for her paintings has been set aside.
TAG, the Art Group, and a summer show, "Fruits of the Earth,"
Monday & Friday, 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; Tuesday to Thursday to 8:30
p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. To August 31.
TAWA Open 2003, a group show selected by E. Carmen Ramos, assistant
fine arts curator at the Newark Museum. Eric Kunsman’s work "Light
Source," an iris giclee print of an original photograph, wins
Best in Show. Juror’s Choice Awards go to works by Connie Gray, Bill
Hogan, Don Jordan, Michelle Soslau, and Maggie Zullinger. Open Tuesday
to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Sunday, 1 to 4 p.m.
609-292-6464. "The Needle’s Eye," quilts, samplers, and needlework
made in New Jersey from the 18th to the early 20th century; to September
Also "The Ones That Didn’t Get Away! Fossil Fish from the New
Jersey State Museum," featuring the skull of a massive ancient
predatory fish, Dunkleosteus, known as the "Bulldog Fish"
of the Chalk Seas. Show is organized by David Parris, curator of Natural
History. On extended view. "Cultures in Competition: Indians and
Europeans in Colonial New Jersey," a show that traces the impact
of European settlement on the native Indians’ way of life after 1600.
Also "Art by African-Americans: A Selection from the Collection;"
"New Jersey’s Native Americans: The Archaeological Record;"
"Delaware Indians of New Jersey;" "The Sisler Collection
of North American Mammals;" "Of Rock and Fire;" "Neptune’s
Architects;" "The Modernists;" "New Jersey Ceramics,
Silver, Glass and Iron;" "Historical Archaeology of Colonial
New Jersey;" "Washington Crossing the Delaware."
New Brunswick, 732-846-5777. "Stephen Spinder: Through My Lens,
Budapest and Transylvania," a collection of photographs of the
Gothic spires and neo-classical facades of Budapest. Sprinder’s images
of Translvania reveal powerful vestiges of an ancient culture and
the preservation of Hungarian traditions, particularly its music and
dance, that have changed little over time. Open Tuesday to Saturday,
11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; and Sunday, 1 to 4 p.m. $5 donation. To November
Glasstown Road, Millville, 856-825-6800. "The Fellows," an
exhibition celebrating CGCA’s 20th anniversary. The rotating anniversary
exhibit showcases contemporary glass works by past and current CGCA
fellowship recipients. On view to December 31. The show begins with
a spotlight on work by 2001 and 2002 fellows who come from as close
as West Orange as far as Hiroshima, Japan, and Adelaide, Australia,
to study at the center. Summer hours Tuesday to Sunday, 10 a.m. to
5 p.m. Wheaton Village admission $8 adult; $5 student.
215-340-9800. "Japanese Prints from the Michener Collection,"
a selection of more than 40 ukiyo-e prints by some of the leading
artists of the highly influential school. The show featuring prints
from the Michener Collection of the Honolulu Academy of Arts, and
organized by the Honolulu Academy, is on view to August 31. Summer
hours: Tuesday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Wednesday 10 a.m.
to 9 p.m.; Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Sunday noon to 5 p.m. Museum
admission $6 adults; $3 students and children.
"Natural Visions," a shared show of landscapes and seascapes
by Michael Filipiak and Cheryl Raywood. Open Thursday to Sunday, noon
to 5 p.m. To August 11.
Annual summer group show of watercolors, acrylics, oils, pastels,
and prints. Featured artists include Joanne Augustine, Albert Bross,
Marge Chavooshian, Tom Chesar, Mike Filipiak, Charles and Lucy McVicker,
Robert Sackson, with pottery by Katherine Hackl and Ann Tsubota. Open
Wednesday to Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. To September 28.
908-996-1470. "Summer Scapes," a summer show of landscapes,
seascapes, and urban scapes by artists from New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
Photographs by Nancy Ori and Laura Zito are included in the roster
of invited artists. Open Monday to Thursday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Friday
and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Sunday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. To September
609-397-9022. Artist and favorite son John McDowell Williams returns
to Lambertville to take over the front gallery at Papier Sun Fine
Art. Show features watercolors and oils by Williams. Regular gallery
hours are Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.
Bridge Street, New Hope, 215-862-3396. Sculpture exhibition features
the outdoor installation of seven large-scale works at sites around
town. Host sites include Union Square, New Hope Solebury Library,
the Wedgwood Inn, New Hope Historical Society, Golden Door Gallery,
and New Hope Mule Barge. On view to Spring 200
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