TURNER: The Man and His Art by Jack Lindsay

TURNER: The Man and His Art

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Lindsay, whose biography J.M.W. Turner was published nearly 20 years ago, has seen fit to tell the story of the English Romantic painter once again. It is difficult to understand why, for reviewers of the earlier book complained of its undistinguished style and suppositious insights. The same complaints can, un fortunately, be levelled again: writing about one of art's greatest masters of color, Lindsay employs language that is unremittingly grisaille and his sections dealing with ""The Man"" grow hazier and hazier as the qualifiers drift past--""perhaps,"" ""it may well be,"" ""there is reason to assume that. . ."" Stylistic considerations aside, the shortcomings may not be entirely the author's fault. Part of the problem lies in the character of Turner himself. Petty, suspicious and money-grubbing (Walter Scott said the artist's palms were as itchy as his fingers were ingenious), Turner was also secretive to the point of paranoia. He jealously guarded his privacy even within the covers of his own journals. As might be expected, the dour painter was not the type to inspire rollicking reminiscences among his contemporaries. He was, in short, a most unlikely candidate for a fully-fleshed-out biographical treatment--a fact Lindsay has chosen to ignore twice. When the author deals with Turner's ""Art,"" he is on firmer ground. Lindsay is convincing when he relates the artist's works to the social upheavals of the time--the Industrial Revolution and the resulting Luddite Riots, Greek Independence, the Reform Bill of 1832. Lindsay also traces such diverse influences as the poetry of James Thomson and Lord Byron, the instrumental technique of Niccolo Paganini and the paintings of Cuyp, Claude and Poussin on Turner's art. Looking ahead, Lindsay makes a strong case in establishing the impact of Turner's theories of light on the later works of Monet, Sisley, Pissaro and Renoir. In the end, Turner's ""Art"" proves far livelier than the ""Man"" himself. A disappointing biography.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1985
Publisher: Watts