Monday, January 12, 2015

Mall Walking in Winter - Degas, El Greco and Thoughts about Mr. Turner

I haven't posted a Mall Walking post for a while.  When I say Mall Walking I mean the National Mall in Washington DC.

During the Holidays I was off for a few days and decided to go to the National Gallery of Art to see two exhibits I've been meaning to see:  Degas's Little Dancer and El Greco's 400th Anniversary.

As a perennial student of art history Degas and El Greco are two of my favorite artists.  

Edgar Degas is a favorite because when I was in school and college and even beyond I was a great lover of ballet. I used to go standing room to see the great dancers that came to our city. (Oh, how I miss those student discounts.) So I had lots of prints and posters of Degas' dancers on my bedroom wall. One of my favorite Degas paintings is part of the NGA exhibit.

The focus of the exhibit is the only sculpture Degas ever showed publicly, at the impressionist exhibition in 1881, Little Dancer Age Fourteen.

It was a wonderful experience to see the sculpture up close. I really felt the personality of this young girl and her determination.  

The El Greco exhibit brings together the artist's paintings owned by the National Gallery and works on loan from Washington collectors. It traces the evolution of Domenikos Theotokopoulos (El Greco) as an artist and his influence on modern art and artist. 

One of El Greco's paintings on exhibit was once owned by Edgar Degas:

Saint Ildefonso, c. 1603/1614

If you happen to be in or near DC between now and February, don't miss these two exhibits. You can read and watch more about the exhibits and the two artists on the NGA website by clicking the links below:

For Richard Armitage, Aidan Turner, and Hobbit fans you can watch Thorin and Kili as artists Claude Monet and Dante Gabriel Rossetti in two UK TV series. (And you get some Degas with your Monet as well)

Richard Armitage in The Impressionists:

Aidan Turner in Desperate Romantics:

Desperate Romantics also stars Rafe Spall as William Holman Hunt one of the founders of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and a desperate romantic.  I recently saw his father, Timothy Spall as artist J.M.W Turner in the movie Mr. Turner. 

A few impressions of Mike Leigh's film Mr. Turner 

I wanted to fall in love with this film. Timothy Spall gives a great performance as the enigma that is Turner the man. The supporting cast is perfect, and many familiar faces if you watch UK television and films. 

The movie in visually stunning, the beauty of the landscapes almost brought me to tears. Some of the interior scenes are so beautifully meticulous in their detail.  We see the real transferred on canvas. Turner's paintings become more and more abstract. Visually this is a great film.

Yet I didn't fall in love. As perennial art history student I know a tiny little bit about Turner and have seen some of his work in museums. I wanted to leave the film understanding Turner's art as well as the man, yet I left knowing less than ever. Maybe that was Leigh's intention. 

We do learn about Turner's rather complicated private life and curmudgeonly personality from middle-age to death. How this grumpy and not always likable man of few words, and some inexplicable deeds, created his works of art is puzzling. Through Spall's performance and Turner's outdoor wanderings we see his great dedication to his work. But for me there was a disconnect. Why did Turner turn more and more towards abstraction? Why light and landscape? We do see the politics of being a successful artist in his time, but what about his art?

But maybe that was the director's message, that art, like love, is inexplicable. 

(bad photos of DC  and inside NGA are mine, others from NGA website, or Google Images)


  1. I really envy you the El Greco show. Someone told me the Turner film was really boring ...

    1. The film starts out really slowly and Leigh's Turner is a man of few words. Despite good and great performances for me the visual beauty of many scenes is what I loved about the film.


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