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Monday, March 2, 2015


Victoria, reporting that for months we've heard praises for the film Mr. Turner...but frankly, I wondered if I'd ever get the chance to see it. The film appeared in some American theatres in mid-December for a brief time and then disappeared.  I guess I wasn't paying attention then, and I despaired of getting  second chance.

Poster for the film Mr. Turner

But, wonder of wonders, it reappeared at local cinemas;  Kristine and I made a date to see the film on a sunny Sunday afternoon in Ft Myers FL.

To watch the official trailer, click here.

Timothy Spall is brilliant in the title role; he has already won many Best Actor Awards, including at the Cannes Film Festival, and he deserves even more.

Though the quality of this snapshot hardly does it justice, the cinematography was incredible.

Director Mike Leigh apparently was passed over for nominations for BAFTAs and Oscars, 
though he too has won several awards and deserves more.  But Mr. Turner is 
not your average blockbuster popular film, aimed at massive audiences, though I hope it gets widespread distribution anyway.

The film follows  Joseph Mallord William Turner ((1775 - 1851) in later life, when he had already earned a distinguished reputation, particularly for his landscapes and nautical scenes. He is a curmudgeonly character, abrupt and eccentric, unkind to the mother of his children, to those daughters (which he apparently did not acknowledge as his), and was abusive to his housemaid, Nevertheless he was a magnificent artist, and it is great film.

Petworth House, West Sussex

Turner visited almost annually at Petworth House, home of the 3rd Earl of Egremont.  He painted both inside the house and on the grounds.Some scenes of the movies are set at Petworth and you can read about the filming there by clicking here.

Filming at Petworth NT

Petworth is now operated by the National Trust. A magnificent collection of paintings is on view there, as well as the fascinating interiors, even the kitchens, and the grounds too. For more information, click here.  The NT has mounted a special exhibition related to the film, on display until March 11, 2015, at Petworth.

Scenes set at the Royal Academy annual exhibitions were especially interesting, with their portrayals of so many of our favorite artists, including John Constable and Benjamin Haydon, below, played by Martin Savage. Relationships among the artists were often prickly and one can hardly be surprised that the competitive spirit reigned.

More comfortable was the growth of Turner's relationship with Mrs. Booth, a widow from Margate, Kent, where he want to paint the sea.  Mrs. Booth is sympathetically portrayed by actress Marion Bailey. He bought her a house in Chelsea where they lived together for many years.

Dorothy Atkinson as Hannah Danby, Turner's housemaid

Atkinson gives an amazing performance as Hannah, who grows ever more pitiable as she endures his moods, his mistreatment, her own growing strangeness and affliction. I was surprised when looking at the cast listing to find that Hannah Danby was the niece of  Sarah Danby, the woman who claimed to have had two daughters with Turner, though they were never married.

Another performance, hardly more than a cameo, interested me because I've seen Sylvestra Le Touzel in several films and on the London stage.

Sylvestra Le Touzel as John Ruskin's mother

Le Touzel as Fanny Price in the 1983 BBC production of Mansfield Park

Mentioning Ruskin brings up two aspects of the film that I didn't like. John Ruskin (1819-1900) was a great authority on Victorian Art, a painter himself, and, I believe a worthy critic who admired Turner's work. But in this film version he is about as obnoxious a dandy as possible.  Too see a critique from The Guardian on the subject, click here.

Joshua McGuire as John Ruskin

The second thing I disliked was the cliched representation of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert as disliking Turner's work and denigrating it as the product of failing eyesight. I know they liked the work of Landseer, Leighton, and Winterhalter, but I wonder if the opinions expressed in the film are quite right.  Of course, as  a Victoria myself, I always give her the benefit of the doubt -- she was certainly the object of many unflattering statements by those who should have known better!!

 Above and below, Sinead Matthews as Queen Victoria and Tom Wlaschiha as Prince Albert

Among the many prominent artists portrayed, but rarely specifically identified, in addition to those mentioned, are Sir William Beechey, Sir John Soane, Sir Charles Eastlake, and Henry William Pickersgill.  Another was the scientist and mathematician Mary Somerville, one of the first two women members in the Royal Astronomical Society (along with Caroline Herschel). Somerville College was named for her, one of the first women's colleges at Oxford University.  Next time I see the film, probably on DVD, I will endeavor to identify more of these characters.

As you can tell from the pictures, the costumes and settings are exceedingly good.  Obviously they were well researched. For one a bit familiar with changes in fashion from the 1820's to the 1850's, I think I can verify their accuracy. 

In 2005, the BBC conducted a poll to identify Great Britain's favorite work of art. The winner was The Fighting Temeraire, by Turner. This film shows Turner encountering the old ship, once the pride of His Majesty's Navy, being towed away to be broken up.    

Turner completed the painting in 1838 and exhibited it at the annual Royal Academy Exhibition in 1839.

The work in progress in the film

Image of the painting from the website of the National Gallery where it hangs permanently.

A brighter version of the painting, from the Turner website.

Personally, I love The Fighting Temeraire, and many other Turners. I have spent quite a bit of time at the Tate Britain in the Clore Gallery where most of his paintings are displayed, and I find them all delicious, whether line-for-line almost photographic in detail or atmospheric and abstract. I think my all time favorite, however, is one I remember from a childhood poetry book. Tintern Abbey.

Watercolour of Tintern Abbey, Turner, 1794

Another of my favorites, because it is so dramatic and does not glorify the battlefield is Waterloo, which hangs in the Tate Britain.  The Tate holds more than 500 oil paintings, 2,000 watercolours, and 30,000 works on paper from the Turner Bequest.  Funds were also left by Turner, who had achieved financial success earlier than most artists, to assist elderly artists.  The Turner Prize was established to honor contemporary artists as well.

The Field at Waterloo, exhibited 1818.Tate Britain

Light and Colour (Goerthe's Theory) - the Morning after the Deluge - Moses Writing the Book of Genesis, exhibited 1843

In 2014, the Tate Britain mounted an exhibition Late Turner: Painting Set Free: works  after 1835 the year he turned 60.

From the exhibition description: "During his final period Turner continues to widen his exposure in the marketplace. From pictures of the whaling industry ni the 1840's to 'sample studies' and finished watercolours such as The Blue Rigi Sunrise 1842 (Tate), he constantly sought to demonstrate his appeal to new admirers, led by John Ruskin, who famously described Turner as 'the greatest of the age.'"

The exhibition closed in London last month. It opens at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, on February 24 and continues until May 24, 2015. It will be shown at the deYoung Museum, San Francisco, June 20-September 20, 2015.

Following our wonderful hours in the theatre, Kristine and I simply had to have some refreshments over which to deconstruct the the film. A perfect day, at least as perfect as one could be on this side of the pond.

Friday, February 27, 2015


In our last Loose in London post, Victoria set the scene by describing all we had seen at the Queen's Gallery, one of my favourite places. I love the exhibits they put on - the topics are always of personal interest, the items well chosen and the Gallery space itself of a size that still manages to seem intimate.

Back in 2010, Victoria and I had attended the Art In Love exhibit, which was comprised of all manner of artwork, jewels and other fabulous items that Queen Victoria and Prince Albert had exchanged as gifts between themselves on various occasions over the years. You can read the post about that visit here. 

One of my favourite pictures from that exhibit was Winterhalter's painting, above, showing the Duke of Wellington presenting a gift to his namesake, Victoria's son, Prince Arthur, on the boy's first birthday.

However, my favourite picture - either from that exhibit or from all time - was Landseer's painting of Prince Albert's greyhound, Eos. Queen Victoria had to smuggle Albert's cane, top hat and gloves out of the Castle and over to Landseer to use in the painting without Albert discovering why until the painting was ready for gifting. This picture does not do justice to the stunning craftsmanship of the painting, which is almost photographic. I sat on a bench in front of it for nearly an hour. Then I marveled at the fact that Victoria and I were being given the opportunity to see so many favourite, and so many iconic, paintings in the same room.

The First Georgian's exhibits we saw in September was not exactly up my alley, being, strictly speaking, before my chosen time period. Realizing that that train of thought sounded closed minded and, admittedly, faintly ridiculous if one aspires to be at all fair, I made my upstairs to the Galleries and was gobsmacked to see the complete, original series of Hogarth's The Harlot's Progress on display. Maybe this show wouldn't be a miss after all.

As so often happens during trips to galleries or museums, Marilyn, Diane, Victoria and I soon all went our separate ways in order to focus our attention on those things that interested us individually. After a goodly amount of time, Diane, Marilyn and myself found ourselves together once more.

"Where's Victoria?" Marilyn asked.

"No idea," I answered, "but come to think on it, I haven't seen her for quite a while."

"We haven't, either," said Diane. "We'll go and look for her."

"No," said I, putting a restraining hand on Diane's arm. "Let's make a plan  first, so that we don't lose anyone else." I thought for a moment, channeling Wellington and hoping some of his strategic savvy would rub off on me. "Okay, here's the deal. I'll wait right here (we were in the largest gallery, with most rooms opening off of it). You go that way, and Diane, you go that way. What time is it?"

"10:50," Marilyn said, checking her watch.

"Right," I said, "both of you will be back here by 11 o'clock. I won't move."

So off they went. And back they came with a few minutes to spare.

"No Victoria." Marilyn said, looking at me expectantly.

"Where on earth can she be?" Diane murmured.

"We have to be just missing her. Like something out of a Marx Brothers movie," I said. "Tell you what, let's go out to that half wall right outside the Gallery and wait for her there."

So off we went, down the stairs, when Diane had a brilliant idea, "Maybe she's in the giftshop?"

The three of us made a thorough search of the giftshop. We checked every nook and every cranny in every section of the shop. It's a wonder we didn't get hauled in for casing the joint. No Victoria. So off we went, out the door and over to the half wall that fronts Buckingham Palace Road. It's hard to believe, but I haven't a single photo of the wall. Can't even find one on Google. Hard to believe because Victoria and I are well acquainted with the wall. We've sat on the wall many times. We've used the wall as a meeting place on numerous occasions. And you may remember that this was the exact same wall upon which Victoria had left her camera just a few days ago. I felt certain that Victoria, once realizing that we'd been separated, would make a bee line for this wall as a point of re-connection.

So, there the three of us sat.

"I can't imagine where she can be," mused Diane.

"How could we lose her? The Gallery isn't that big," Marilyn added.

"This does not bode well," I said.

"Oh, it's not that bad. She'll turn up," Diane said.

"I meant that it doesn't bode well for the Duke of Wellington tour. It hasn't even begun yet and I've lost someone. And not just someone, but Victoria, my co-guide. If I can't keep track of a tour guide, how am I supposed to keep track of seventeen tour goers?"

We sat pondering the answer to this question for some time. Some long time.

"I'm going back inside the Gallery to see if she's there," I told them. "Don't move from this spot!"

Once back inside, I cased the giftshop. Again. Then I went up to the information desk and explained my dilemma to the kind lady behind the desk, giving her Victoria's name and telling her where we'd be waiting, just in case Victoria thought to ask at the desk. Then, I asked one of the guides if she'd go back upstairs into the Gallery and look for Victoria, which she did, using my description of Victoria to scout any lost women she may find. She came back to say that she hadn't found anyone who looked lost or bewildered, nor anyone matching Victoria's description, nor by discreetly having called Victoria's name in various rooms.  She even checked the bathrooms. No Victoria.

So I want back outside and told the girls that I was going to walk down to the Palace entrance to see if somehow Victoria had left the Gallery before us and was waiting for us there. I went. I looked. No Victoria. I went back to the wall and sat down beside Marilyn and Diane.

"Where can she be?" I asked no one in particular.

"She wouldn't just leave us there," Marilyn said. "I mean, the plan was for the four of us to go on to the Palace together. Why would she leave without us?"

"She's not any place that makes sense. She can't still be inside. She wasn't here at the wall and we haven't crossed paths in quite some time. Weird. It's like someone came down and abducted her."

"Yeah, but instead of aliens, it was Prinny who whisked her away to Regency England in another dimension," Diane said. "Maybe she's eating ices at Gunter's as we speak."

"She'd better not be," I replied. "I wish we could fast forward to when we find her so that I'd have the explanation. The suspense is killing me cause I can't for life of me think where she could be. We haven't seen hide nor hair of her." I stood up, "I know it makes no sense, but I'm going to walk up to the Royal Mews gift shop and see if she's there. Unlikely, but we'll then be able to rule that out. Don't move!"

So, off I trod, up Buckingham Palace road to the Mews giftshop. No Vicky. On my way back, I stopped into the gallery again. "I know this sounds dramatic," I said to the lady behind the information desk, "but you haven't anyone fall ill, have you?"

"You still haven't found your friend?" she asked.

"No, and just to cover all the bases, I wondered if something had happened to her."

"No, sorry, we haven't had anyone fall sick, or injure themselves or anything else. Certainly nothing that required emergency services, either. Sorry."

Dejected, I walked back to the wall. "How long have we been sitting here?"

"Almost an hour," Marilyn said. 

"And no sign of her," I said. "I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that the chances of her walking by now are slim to none."

"Well, we might as well go on to the Palace for the tour, as planned," suggested Diane. "If worse comes to worse, we'll find her later at our hotel."

So off we trudged. Each of us still musing on where in the world, or in London at any rate, Victoria could be. Honest to God, if she had gone to Gunter's without me, I'd throttle her. 

Note from Victoria: I was looking for them, and beginning to suspect I'd been ditched..a la junior high school, the mean girls had conspired to leave me behind!

More Loose In London Coming Soon!