14 August 2012


Tate Liverpool

“So you have reservations, but you came anyway?”  The acerbic scouse wit catches me unawares in the lofty bastion of the Tate Liverpool.  I had reserved tickets for the Turner, Monet, Twombly exhibition and find myself speared by the ancient concierge, not, I muse, what one would expect in Tate Britain…...

The set up is an eye-opener.  This is not the first time I have visited Liverpool, but the city, perhaps in relation to its stint as European Capital of Culture in 2008 (as well as the celebration of its own 800th birthday a year before), has transformed itself and the Albert Dock area has become the most visited attraction in the UK outside London.   The area comprises part of Liverpool's UNESCO designated World Heritage Maritime Mercantile City and the docks and warehouses also make up the largest body of Grade 1 listed buildings anywhere in Britain.  Some four million visitors each year now come to see the Beatles’ Story, the Merseyside Maritime Museum and, like us, the Tate Liverpool. 


On another day we might be tempted to find out about these “Beatles” and take the Magical Mystery Tour bus, or to explore the International Slavery Museum, or even just to sit and restore ourselves in one of the many bars or restaurants around the waterside, but we are here specifically to look at the later paintings of three artists: Joseph Turner (1775 – 1851), Claude Monet (1840 – 1926) and Cy Twombly (1928 – 2011). The concept of the exhibition is that of a conversation between the artists, as if they were able to discuss their perceptions and approaches. And it is a revelation. There are seven themes, where examples of each man’s work are grouped, “not in competition, but as a means to explore the ways in which artists share interests, values and preoccupations,” (from the Exhibition guide).


I am particularly struck, especially on the fourth floor of the museum, overlooking the Mersey, of their various ways of depicting water, and the atmosphere and light that is associated with or reflected by rivers and the sea.  Paintings such as Turner’s “The Thames above Waterloo Bridge” and Monet’s “Morning on the Seine, Giverny,” have light as the subject, and, although I am less familiar with Twombly, I can see the connection between these pictures and his “Orpheus” even though I am not sure I would be able to find a place for it in my home.

There are fittingly several pictures with boats in them too.  Looking from the canvasses to the waters outside there are images that reflect the artists’ subjects – OK there’s a tenuous link between the Yellow Duckmarine and Turner’s “Peace – Burial at Sea” but with a touch of imagination we can go there.

The titles of the sections of this exhibition guide the viewer, and the final part is entitled “A Floating World,” with Turner studying water lilies and Twombly possibly admiring peonies in his “Untitled 2007.”  “Transience and regret” being central themes here, but “it is also a hymn to sunlight…..” (from the guide). 
We issue out into the sunlight, seeing things anew.  It’s a bright world, where light and shade and reflections are confused after the structured environment of the exhibition.  Apparently, just before his death, Turner is said to have uttered the words, “The sun is God.”   Food for thought, perhaps, but quite exhausting.  Overstimulated, we need to take a pause, and so retire to The Globe, before heading home......  I think I have come to terms with my reservations.

Sarah and Amanda, inside the Globe,
the pub with the famous sloping floor.....


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