From ‘spark to sparkling artist’, English character actor Timothy Spall, recently won Best Actor at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival. He noted at the time that in recent years he has been the bridesmaid, never the bride. This is despite playing high-profile roles in the Harry Potter films and Winston Churchill in The King’s Speech,
He gained this achievement for his role in the Mike Leigh film Mr. Turner, the genius who was arguably one of the world’s greatest, and certainly England’s favourite painter, Joseph William Mallord Turner (1775-1851).
Believed to be a creator of enormous talent, Turner had to paint or draw to live. When he died he left more than 190,000 oils, drawings and watercolours to various institutes across Britain.
This landmark movie to be released near to Xmas, explores the last quarter of a century of the artist’s life. According to reviews, it is as good a ‘landscape as portrait’, something Turner no doubt would have enjoyed.
Turner sought the nuances provide by water, sky, mists and flowers. Often called the first true ‘impressionist’, he is known for favouring ‘red’ as a background for showing off amazing art, especially his.
He was completely enraptured with gradations of light, his paintings conveying a generalized mood or ‘impression’ of a scene.
His painting technique as it developed in the later years of his life, allowed us to feel the heat of a summer day and sense the vibration of light and experience.
He was enormously influential for the later Impressionists artists whose innovative ideas shaped the age of modernity.
He captured light, life and form suffusing it with colour, detailing the unity of impression and harmony.
His revolution in art found a champion in John Ruskin (Joshua McGuire from The Hour), who helped turn the critical tide or art opinion in his favour.
The writer and director of the movie is Mike Leigh (b1943 -), renowned for his ‘kitchen sink realism’ and BAFTA award winning Oscar nominated film Secrets and Lies (1996).
He is renowned for building his characters and developing rich storylines as well as bringing together masterly casts of splendid ensemble actors.
Timothy Spall with his wonderfully craggy lived in face seems just perfect for the man known among his colleagues for being an eccentric, erratic and sometimes downright uncouth man.
Over the years Leigh has championed British acting talent and his own influence on television and film in England has been considerable, especially during the time he worked in theatre and making movies for BBC television.
His extensive and prolific career includes a stay in Australia, when he taught at the Australian Film School at Sydney.
Another great character actor James Fleet (b1954-) will play Turner’s great rival artist the romantic painter John Constable 91776-1837). He was another plain man of his age, a man of the soil who was deeply attached to the region of East Anglia where he was born.
Constable’s recording of England’s landscape is the one today many people recognise and associate with England and its countryside, so powerful was his visual message
Although we hasten to add Turner was enormously capable of producing great passion and poetry in his work, equally expressing himself eloquently through paint, although differently.
Constable’s driving force was mainly emotion, not intelligence. He developed a vocabulary that became comfortingly familiar as it expressed his feelings.
Ine of his letters confirm the importance of the strength of his memories ‘the sound of water escaping from the mill-dams, the willows, old rotten planks, slimy posts and brickwork; I love such things…those scenes made me a painter’
Nicholas Jones will play Sir John Soane, another great English character and one of the greatest of the architects during the ‘Regency’ in England, when ‘red’ was certainly England’s favourite colour.
Although not feted by the Prince of Wales, Soane had a magnificent career and his museum at London today, is one of those glorious places to visit.
Mr. Turner lived in a time when any gentleman of substance wanting to move in the right circles always kept a housekeeper, although Turner is known to have exploited his own somewhat shockingly and sexually as the movie reveals, giving it an R rating.
He had a grand vision not only of art, but also of himself, undoubtedly seeing himself as an heir to the great master artists he admired from the past.
When he was on his travels to paint ‘en plain air’, Mr. Turner stayed with his country aristocracy friends who supported his vision and style.
They visited brothels together, drank up a storm, dished out advice and jokes while he dashed off a canvas or two in indomitable style.
Turner we would have to say really got into his work when he was painting and once had himself ‘strapped to the mast of a ship so that he could paint a snowstorm’.
He was both celebrated and vilified by the Upper Classes and the public at large, who over the years since have gained gradually and in hindsight, an extreme affection and reverence for his great genius.
He became popular, although exhibiting a distinct lack of obedience to authority even as a member of the Royal Academy of Arts.
It was renowned at the time for reveling in rules, which had been put in place by one of its founder artists and first great grand-style president, Sir Joshua Reynolds.
Have to admit Turner is quite my favourite painter of all time. Whenever I went to Britain over a thirty odd year period I spent hours seeking out his art works.
Revealing an exquisite private collection of his works handed down through one family to one of the three tours I led to England, a highlight.
In his day Turner may have been a plain man, but he is one who achieved celebrity status.
There is no doubt with this new movie we will gain an overview of both the artist and his work and wonderful insights into his amazing working life and practices, an assumption based on Leigh’s reputation for excellence.
There is no doubt the film has come out of the rise in interest of the man and landmark exhibitions of his work on show at Tate Britain where much of it reside
As today’s art lovers survey the works of the man who influenced the likes of French artists Claude Monet and Claude Pissaro so keenly when they on a trip to London together in 1870.
They seized upon Turner’s rare ability to provide an impression, one that was a delicate, hazy and fleeting thing.
What we all discover as we age is that really nothing ever happens in isolation, something that Turner would have encountered too.
As we progress as a society we learn to understand more and more just how events and trends are inextricably linked.
Understanding historical events in context and in regard to the intellectual, philosophical and spiritual ideas of their day is helpful, as is understanding the fashions and passions of the society in which they took place.
Knowing his history of art would have ensured that Turner’s own confrontation with the works of French seventeenth century master classical landscapist Claude Lorrain (1600 – 1682) would have an implication, which was considerable.
Claude placed classical ruins in an idealized landscape one that used light and shadow to depict morning, noon and evening, and it would make an indelible impression on Turner and his work.
Turner bridged the gulf between English eighteenth century landscape painting traditions, and the art of the present day.
He created a vision pulsating with light, colour and atmosphere by exploring the past, while living in the present and helping to invent the future through progressing art, which was always on his plain man’s mind.
Mr. Turner should prove to be a real Xmas treat.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2014
A Film by Mike Leigh
Coming this December to a City Near You
Director – Mike Leigh
Writer – Mike Leigh
Actors – Timothy Spall, Dorothy Atkinson, Marion Bailey, Paul Jesson, Lesley Manville, Martin Savage, Joshua McGuire, Ruth Sheen, David Horovitch, Karl Johnson
Watch the Trailer