The Painter of Light

“Who does not know Turner’s picture of the Golden Bough? The scene, suffused with the golden glow of imagination in which the divine mind of Turner steeped and transfigured even the fairest natural landscape, is a dream-like vision of the little woodland lake of Nemi— “Diana’s Mirror,” as it was called by the ancients.” This is how James Gorge Frazer started  his multi-volume book “The Golden Bough,” which derived its name from the famous painting of Joseph Mallord William Turner.

Indeed by then few people were not acquainted with the works of Turner, who was unarguably the best painter in pre-impressionist era England and maybe even Europe. Today, although Turner is still widely known to people he lost his past glory and maybe because 20th century brought so many new trends in art of painting that few painters could retain their former place. Nevertheless, Turner’s paintings did not lose their quality and ability of telling sometimes enormous stories in just one scene.

Turner himself once said “indistinctness is my forte,” a quite interesting though that captures the whole essence of his paintings and renders it in just four words. Indeed, few people can differentiate any kind of distinctness in his paintings be it of forms, of colors even of themes, because his themes are not static, they are fluid. That was his genius to deliver a scene in its fluidity in such a beautiful way that it challenged the concept of classical painting, once asserted by Gottfried Lessing. To Lessing’s mind paintings should present only a scene, that does not imply action. However, paintings of Turner were disclosing some form of action, which again was indistinct.

In the self-same “The Golden Bough” one can witness the dancing fates and the mystical priestess showing Aeneas the golden bough. The scenes are environed with the dawn of the rising sun. Thus, we see the beautiful classical theme from Virgil’s epic “Aeneid”, a series of actions that the poet described in 3 pages, presented in only one painting. This is how divine and vivacious was the style of Turner. Yet his paintings, were always veiled from the immediate sight of the viewer by some light-yellow voile, which earned him his name as the “Painter of Light.”

Turner’s paintings are so lively that even after 2 centuries the fates dance, the sun rises above the temple of Nemi, and the colors speak through the veil of time and tell tales of undiluted beauty. The_Golden_Bough_by_ J_M_W_Turner


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