“Take me to the Tate.”
In 1990 I was pregnant with our first child. I left the doctor’s office with the pregnancy confirmed and went directly to a travel agent office. “Book me a flight to London”. I knew that if I didn’t see Turner’s paintings right away, it would be a long time before a first look.
Years before I had traveled to London by myself to visit my high school best friend, Redenta Soprano, while she was on a Rotary Scholarship studying illustration. We went to the Tate (now called Tate Britain) together, walked up the stairs to the entrance with great anticipation, paid admission and headed straight to the J. M. W. Turner (1775-1851) galleries. Much to my horror, the walls had been emptied of all the paintings and only faint dust and dirt on the walls framed the outline of where the paintings had hung. I asked a guard what gives. He said they are building a new wing called the Clore Gallery for the Turner collection and the paintings were taken into restoration to be cleaned.
When I shared my surprise the guard said “Well, you could have rung the museum”. My reply “They’ve been hanging here for over 150 years!” I sat on the front steps and just wept.
So in 1990 I was ready to see the new Clore Gallery housing the Turner Bequest to the nation of some 300+ paintings. The first day in London I hailed a black cab, got in and declared “Take me to the Tate”; I think they were the finest five words I have ever said! The Gallery was terrific and I lingered in each room to absorb the genius of Turner. When I entered the Gallery on the fourth consecutive day one guard nudged another and held up four fingers. They probably thought I was casing the place. This is why I went by myself. I wanted to spend the entire time at the Tate. Someone else on my trip would have wanted to see the Crown Jewels.
They displayed one of Turner’s oil paintboxes and brushes. They had unfinished canvases on display. Upstairs they had a large room painted a loud magenta, the way galleries were presented when Turner was painting. They hung his paintings the same way as back then, old salon style, stacking them 3 or 4 high. Our modern eyes are not used to this arrangement!
I think my favorite room held paintings of Venice. I sat in that room a good long time.
The library upstairs was a treasure trove. After washing you hands you could request a portfolio of matted watercolors to hold and examine. Here’s how the Los Angelas Times described the experience:
“You wash, sit and are presented with a fat folio of the world’s most glorious watercolors. An hour slips effortlessly by in a parade of limpid color that seems to have been applied by delicate raindrops painting Venetian canals, symphonic English sunsets and mountains floating in the mist.”
I have been back 4 or 5 more times to London and so enjoy exiting the Underground Pimlico Station and walking along the Thames to the Clore Gallery.
I skipped my high school graduation ceremony – wasn’t into pomp and circumstance back then. My mom and I spent that day at the Frick Collection in NYC. They have a few big Turners and I was completely satisfied seeing them in person. It was a celebratory day for me.
A few years ago The Frick was having a special exhibit showing an unfinished Turner along with finished ones in the same series. I read the review in the Wall Street Journal and realized I had to see this exhibit. My husband went with me to the City and we first went to the Frick. Afterwards we strolled up Fifth Avenue to eat lunch from a food truck outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I was feeling bad that I had planned all these art activities for our trip with no techie experiences for my husband. I said to him “We could go down Fifth to see the Apple store” and the man on my right said “No, you don’t want to do that, there’s construction all around right now.” He then offered there was a good Turner exhibit at the Frick. I learned he was the Librarian at the Frick. I smiled and knew my mom had sent him to us from above. She had been a Reference Librarian. What an interesting talk we had that followed. I love New York City!