Turner at the Met

The Met’s current exhibition of the work of British painter J.M.W. Turner is a welcome addition to the summer museum show pool. The show requires patience and some time as there are 140 pictures, many of which are smaller watercolors which deserve individual examination. These watercolors tend to have been painted with incredible precision and a depth of color and form that is unexpected in the watercolor media. There are a number of what we think of as “Turners” — large oil paintings of moody, churning seas and burning, almost thunderous skies — his sublime landscapes. These grand landscapes, which the artist hoped would elevate landscapes to the level of importance of the genre of history paintings, are brighter and moreemotional than I had remembered and so were wonderful to see in person. It is a treat as well to see these pictures in New York as most of the works are borrowed from the Tate, London and other international institutions. The most interesting of all the works come in the final room of the exhibition where a group of unfinished paintings are displayed, each of which adds something to our understanding of how the artist painted and how he crafted his compositions, from the canvases primed in white to the textured surfaces and glowing yellow tones laid down before more defined forms. The exhibition runs through September 21, 2008 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.