A chaos of colour
As the winter darkness recedes each January, there is a room in our National Gallery of Ireland that becomes a place of pilgrimage for art lovers. The gallery’s annual exhibition of watercolours by the great 19th century painter J M W Turner is synonymous with the start of the year and brings a sense of renewal, of the seasons coming round again.
Their display in early January – and only ever at that time of year – is of course scheduled to coincide with the days when the sun is at is weakest, a condition laid down to protect these delicate works of art when they came to the gallery as a bequest just over 110 years ago. That generous bequest from Londoner Henry Vaughan was an exemplary instance of the kind of philanthropy so badly needed by our cultural institutions today.
This January’s exhibition coincides with the beginning of Ireland’s EU presidency when perhaps the themes of these watercolours should be noted – Turner painted many of them during one of his European tours. His watercolours, though small in scale, match the quality and power of his larger painting and demonstrate his genius as a colourist and the poetic insight with which he saw the landscape. Their appeal to the public has shown them to be one of the National Gallery’s most popular attractions. The reason for this has much to do with the delicacy and sheer beauty of what in his lifetime this father of Impressionism was lampooned for: his “chaos of colour”.
While the gallery is currently undergoing refurbishment and large sections are closed to the public, another exhibition, “Masterpieces from the Collection”, is a reminder of the wealth of treasures our modest gallery has accumulated since it was established in the mid 1800s: Goya, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Picasso, Van Gogh, as well as its remarkable gathering of works by Jack B Yeats. For those who take time to go and view these masterpieces, and especially the luminous images of “the painter of light”, the sting will be taken out of this bleak winter month.