“The Double Negative” – Turner, Monet, And Twombly – In Conversation – Art Post By: Stephan Jones-Hughes

English: Chichester Canal circa 1828

English: Poppy Field in Argenteuil, oil painti...

Tate’s latest exhibition brings together three men separated by eras. We spoke to exhibition curator Jeremy Lewison to see what unites them…

It seems year on year, as summer time comes around, it is to the pleasure of art lovers and beyond that we welcome another name from the A-list to the Albert Dock. In the recent past we’ve seen Picasso and Klimt, while this time last year it was the turn of Belgian surrealist Rene Magritte. If Tate Liverpool continues in this vein, they may worry about being taken for granted. This time around, we’re getting triple the bang for our buck, with Turner Monet Twombly: Later Paintings.

Of course, the three men operated in markedly different times: JMW Turner, Claude Monet and Cy Twombly couldn’t possibly have anything in common, not enough to base an exhibition featuring more than 60 works around, surely? If not exactly ‘emperors new clothes’, we did wonder why, other than guaranteeing visitors, would Tate plump specifically for these three.

Jeremy Lewison wasted no time at all in exploding whatever assumptions we’d brought to the table. Previously Director of Collections at Tate in London (a position he held for 18 years), Lewison began by explaining that “the exhibition was commissioned by Moderna Museet [in Stockholm], who initially wanted the show to feature Turner, Monet and [Mark] Rothko … the more I thought about it, I thought it wasn’t the right combination. Rothko had already been canonised, and his place was firmly established. Twombly was a bit more edgy, and of course, at that point still alive.”

Early omens were good. When Jeremy visited him shortly before his death last year, Twombly had “found the exhibition really interesting, and had began to think about the show and how it would work.” An avid collector of letters by artists who fascinated him, Twombly explained that in his collection were letters written by both Turner and Monet. It was at this point Lewison must have known his instinct in plumping for Twombly over Rothko had been correct.

“They might come to blows but they also might have a grudging admiration in the end”

Before that wonderful, serendipitous discovery, Lewison explained that he had pondered “a number of different links” between the three, which pointed to how he would tie the show together. “I was interested to look at what happens to Romanticism after Turner. Somehow art moves towards the symbolist and then the modernist. There are strong aspects of Romanticism in Monet’s work that he might not admit himself, [and] Twombly described himself as a romantic symbolist. His works are a palimpsest – layers of different cultures, imbued with a sense of the romantic.”

Another important aspect is that ‘Later Paintings’ element of the exhibition title. We are looking at works by men in later life. “What preoccupies artists in older age?” asks Lewison. He goes on to suggest that it’s “an attitude towards mortality and an attitude to loss – how did the artist deal with, and frame, loss?” These questions had particular relevance in Twombly’s case. Of course, he has only very recently died, but he continued to work after a number of health scares. “It’s quite extraordinary with some of the bigger of Twombly’s paintings. When I saw him, he was transformed in front of the canvas. Camino Real [in The Vital Force section of the exhibition] expresses vitality and exuberance of still being alive.”

If it all still seems a little on the nebulous side, as soon as you walk around the exhibition, such thoughts are instantly banished. Arranged thematically (“I constructed this as a conversation”, says Lewison) the exhibition draws some wonderful parallels between the artists – juxtaposing two, sometimes all three – and one can see the intent and effort that has gone into the exhibition to provide a new context in which to view the already wonderful pieces.

Lewison puts it best, setting a scene. “Twombly and Turner meet downstairs standing in front of their respective versions of Hero and Leander. They could have an exchange and come to an understanding eventually. They might [all three of them] come to blows but they also might have a grudging admiration in the end.” When asked whether in curating the exhibition he felt part of their conversation, he replied: “I felt I was listening in. I wasn’t taking part in the dialogue, simply listening in”.

Of course, the inclination when presented with greats such as these is to compare them, and perhaps pick a particular favourite. We couldn’t leave without asking the question of Jeremy. “I don’t have a favourite artist of the three. Amongst the Twombly, I love Orpheus; it’s such a slow painting. That’s what this exhibition is about; it’s opening itself up to poetry, looking into this conversation that’s taking place. I’m not telling you how to respond to it – I want you to have your own response.”

Turner Monet Twombly: Later Paintings continues at Tate Liverpool until 28th October £12, concessions available via The Double Negative » Turner Monet Twombly – In Conversation.


* In Pictures: Turner Monet Twombly (bbc.co.uk)

* Turner, Monet, Twombly – a trio of sublime painters (guardian.co.uk)

* The great upstager: how Monet made Turner and Twombly look ordinary (guardian.co.uk)

* VIDEO: The rising popularity of art galleries (bbc.co.uk)

* Cy Twombly, 1928-2011 American Artist Who Scribbled a Unique Path by Michael

Stravato (tigergroves.wordpress.com)

* Phila. Museum Of Art Now Displaying Cy Twombly’s Weird Bronze Rocks (philebrity.com)

* Twombly/Poussin at Dulwich College Art Gallery (tony_green.typepad.com)

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Twilight-in-the-world-of-balloons – Poem by: Brice Maiurro 2012: Photo by: Anthony Luebbert



and the earth
feels as old as
dirt again

the violins
still mimicking the crickets
and not
the other
way around

the sky is the canvas
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with the raging crayola
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we burn with love
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out here with the distant
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we look at the
through the glass
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Sublunaryby A.E. Stallings

Mid-sentence, we remembered the eclipse,
Arguing home through our scant patch of park
closeup & macro 365: 019 - bitter orange

closeup & macro 365: 019 – bitter orange (Photo credit: klugi)

Still warm with barrel wine, when none too soon

We checked the hour by glancing at the moon,
Unphased at first by that old ruined marble
Looming like a monument over the hill,
So brimmed with light it seemed about to spill,
Then, there! We watched the thin edge disappear—
The obvious stole over us like awe,
That it was our own silhouette we saw,
Slow perhaps to us moon-gazing here
(Reaching for each other’s fingertips)
But sweeping like a wing across that stark
Alien surface at the speed of dark.
The crickets stirred from winter sleep to warble
Something out of time, confused and brief,
The roosting birds sang out in disbelief,
The neighborhood’s stray dogs began to bark.
And then the moon was gone, and in its place,
A dim red planet hung just out of reach,
As real as a bitter orange or ripened peach
In the penumbra of a tree. At last
We rose and strolled at a reflective pace
Past the taverna crammed with light and smoke
And people drinking, laughing at a joke,
Unaware that anything had passed
Outside in the night where we delayed
Sheltering in the shadow we had made.

A.E. Stallings

“The Tuft of a Flowers” – Poem By: Robert Frost

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English: Crow cutting grass with a scythe. Illustration from “Norsk Billedbog for børn”. ‪Norsk (bokmål)‬: Kråke skjærer gras med ljå. Fra Norsk Billedbog for børn. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Tuft of a Flowers

I went to turn the grass once after one
Who mowed it in the dew before the sun.

The dew was gone that made his blade so keen
Before I came to view the levelled scene.

I looked for him behind an isle of trees;
I listened for his whetstone on the breeze.

But he had gone his way, the grass all mown,
And I must be, as he had been — alone,

‘As all must be,’ I said within my heart,
‘Whether they work together or apart.’

But as I said it, swift there passed me by
On noiseless wing a bewildered butterfly,

Seeking with memories grown dim o’er night
Some resting flower of yesterday’s delight.

And once I marked his flight go round and round,
As where some flower lay withering on the ground.

And then he flew as far as eye could see,
And then on tremulous wing came back to me.

I thought of questions that have no reply,
And would have turned to toss the grass to dry;

But he turned first, and led my eye to look
At a tall tuft of flowers beside a brook,

A leaping tongue of bloom the scythe had spared
Beside a reedy brook the scythe had bared.

The mower in the dew had loved them thus,
By leaving them to flourish, not for us,

Nor yet to draw one thought of ours to him.
But from sheer morning gladness at the brim.

The butterfly and I had lit upon,
Nevertheless, a message from the dawn,

That made me hear the wakening birds around,
And hear his long scythe whispering to the ground,

And feel a spirit kindred to my own;
So that henceforth I worked no more alone;

But glad with him, I worked as with his aid,
And weary, sought at noon with him the shade;

And dreaming, as it were, held brotherly speech
With one whose thought I had not hoped to reach.

‘Men work together,’ I told him from the heart,
‘Whether they work together or apart.’

-Robert Frost


“Walking The Line” – Song By: Ronnie and Heather Whitley Gibson

Suddenly forever works
living rings hoping to stay
stems of flowers
pictured hands
until the end of day
endings muted
moments last
seeding in each other
river boat moves in plain air
fluted vows uncluttered

comfortable the words spoken
rambling and unabridged
watching eyes that start to widen
listen to your every word
sun spread folded hands forever
fastened in a black dress
wild rose weeds and bright blue sky
make both of us breathless

laughing, talking, overlapping, no forecast
conversation and a radio that blasts

a clock that has no face
will never tell you time
I say your name in stories
and all the stories rhythm
when I found you it was like
treasures people find
and I don’t mind
walking the line

Pluck a flower from a field
and plant it with a weed
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you will have a seed
a paper moon that’s in the sky
and a stolen kiss
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I knew I needed this

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please grow old with me today we’ll make a start

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and then I pluck a kiss
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that’s expensive and complete
it’s so very fine
walking the line

Standing on a mountain top
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hearts that flutter
blood that runs
eyes never look down
shining eyes that sparkle
smile threw a bearded cheek
hold on tight to what you have
a nowhere man is weak

I close my eyes, I take a breath
and then I pluck a kiss
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that’s expensive and complete
it’s like a fine wine
walking the line

sun spread folded hands forever
fastened in a black dress
wild rose weeds and bright blue sky
make both of us breathless

Take A Listen To “Walking The Line”