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    JMW Turner (1775-1851)  The Golden Bough, exhibited 1834.  Courtesy Tate Gallery

    THE 121st annual Turner exhibition which opens on New Year’s Day today at the National Gallery of Ireland wlll be the most exciting yet. It coincides with the magnificent exhibition Turner: The Sun is God which continues at the Gallery until February 6. Right now the National Gallery of Ireland is offering a visual feast of wonderful work by a rare master who was far ahead of his time.  Turner’s art is as contemporary today as when it was painted a couple of centuries ago. An Impressionist 50 years before Impressionism, an abstract artist when abstraction was unknown, Turner as artist and innovator was far ahead of his time. It is always instructive when assessing any art to refer back to the greatest artists by visiting galleries.  They set the benchmark. They did it right. Their work shouts it out when lesser artworks fall short.  Brutal and frustrating as this may be for artists, it is always an important learning oppprtunity. Ask Jackson Pollock, the great mid 20th century American artist who once said memorably: “F… Picasso”.

    JMW Turner, The Schollenen Gorge from the Devil’s Bridge Pass of St. Gotthard 1802.  Courtesy Tate Gallery

    In the world of art everyone, including collectors, needs to keep their eye in. Don’t miss these shows. An appreciation of the fact that great art isn’t easy is an important first step. The Sun is God at the National Gallery is a show to be savoured slowly.  Turner draws the viewer in as he reveals his fascination with the forces of nature, the sun, moon and clouds. This glowing show traces the development of his compositions from early sketches and exploratory ‘colour beginnings’ to finished watercolours, oil paintings and published prints. It covers a range of themes including memory, imagination, nature, light and atmosphere. This unique opportunity to see 89 artworks from the Tate Collection in London never before displayed in Ireland coincides this January with the annual display of Turner watercolours bequeathed in 1900 by the English collector Henry Vaughan.  This year’s selection will include the 31 Vaughan Bequest works, and five additional Turner watercolours, alongside eight of the artist’s much-loved Liber Studiorum prints of landscape and seascape compositions recreated as prints.There is much to celebrate. Turner has always been popular in Ireland. The annual watercolour show had to be cancelled two years ago for the first time in 120 years because of the pandemic.  The show last January was the 120th instead of the 121st.  This year, uniquely, we will get to see Turner twice.

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