The Painter of Light – Illumination of the Soul

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Who, as a child in England, doesn’t remember being ushered into an impossibly darkened gallery to view the paintings of J.M.W. Turner? That viscerally despondent feeling that perhaps our very breath might destroy the delicate miracle unfolded upon the paper or the canvas. Saddled with the monicker of, “romantic landscape painter” Turner was in fact so much more. The son of a barber and wig maker with a mother from a family of butchers, made him a true working-class son. Admitted to the Royal Academy of Art in 1789 at the tender age of 14 he produced his first water colour a year later for the Summer Exhibition.

The independence such early recognition gave Turner, coupled with the financial freedom it brought him, allowed the young artist the license to experiment and dabble. Water colours, oils and print were the mediums he chose to express his outstanding visions of light but he did more than just capture the right moment. Many of his paintings cast a distinct narrative such as this emotive piece, The Slave Ship or Slavers Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying. Surely that broiling sea and that blood red sunset in reflection speaks to us even today of the barbarous practices of slavery and the pact made with the devil of that evil trade.

Donal Og

Ship

It is late last night the dog was speaking of you;
the snipe was speaking of you in her deep marsh.
It is you are the lonely bird through the woods;
and that you may be without a mate until you find me.

You promised me, and you said a lie to me,
that you would be before me where the sheep are flocked;
I gave a whistle and three hundred cries to you,
and I found nothing there but a bleating lamb .

You promised me a thing that was hard for you,
a ship of gold under a silver mast;
twelve towns with a market in all of them,
and a fine white court by the side of the sea.

You promised me a thing that is not possible,
that you would give me gloves of the skin of a fish;
that you would give me shoes of the skin of a bird;
and a suit of the dearest silk in Ireland .

When I go by myself to the Well of Loneliness,
I sit down and I go through my trouble;
when I see the world and do not see my boy,
he that has an amber shade in his hair.

It was on that Sunday I gave my love to you;
the Sunday that is last before Easter Sunday
and myself on my knees reading the Passion;
and my two eyes giving love to you forever.

My mother has said to me not to be talking with you today,
or tomorrow, or on the Sunday;
it was a bad time she took for telling me that;
it was shutting the door after the house was robbed.

My heart is as black as the blackness of the sloe,
or as the black coal that is on the smith’s forge;
or as the sole of a shoe left in white halls;
it was you put that darkness over my life.

You have taken the east from me, you have taken the west from me;
you have taken what is before me and what is behind me;
you have taken the moon, you have taken the sun from me;
and my fear is great that you have taken God from me!

– Translation by Lady Gregory

A Working Class Hero is Something to Be

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Gustave Caillebotte, Les Rabateurs de Parquet (The Floor Scrapers), presented to The Paris Salon of 1875, is one of the first occasions that members of the urban proletariat had been displayed to the general public. The jury, shocked by its crude realism but voyeuristically fascinated, rejected it as “vulgar subject matter”. In choosing to submit himself simply to the rigorous formulae of traditional realist painters, Caillebotte eschews any of the political, social or moral messages of his contemporaries like Courbet or Millet. It is as if he were a documentarian exposing us only to gestures, tools and the accoutrements of these stripped down modern heroes of antiquity. One year later he, along with Edgar Degas, were the toast of the town. … Could there be a more apropos moment to take note that a working class hero is something to be?