UPDATE: The Getty Center will be open until 9pm this Saturday and Sunday to give more people a chance to see the Turner exhibit, which ends Sunday.
The Getty Center’s new exhibit, "J.M.W. Turner: Painting Set Free," displays an incredible number of works — 35 oils, 27 watercolors — by the man many people now think of as the greatest English painter of all time.
The day I went to the Turner show at the Getty, looking out toward the Pacific, there were layers of cloud and mist rising up toward the Santa Monica foothills in all the grays, whites and blues of typical Southern California spring landscape. I asked Getty co-curator Julian Brooks if Turner would have enjoyed living and working here.
"Turner loved dramatic scenery," Brooks said. "And I think he would have loved the canyons and the mountains. He also loved the ocean, and he probably would have lived on the coast in Santa Monica or somewhere, and would have enjoyed painting the atmosphere over the ocean, painting the changing light."
With his great clouds of diffuse colors and self-conceived techniques that involved blurring and smearing paint, it's no wonder that for decades, he was seen as an artistic influence wildly ahead of his time.
In most of his pictures, Turner’s architecture and landscapes loom hugely and even threateningly over the diminished figures of human beings. For all the brightness of his hues and liveliness of his vistas, Turner often seemed to have a grim outlook on the world and the universe.
As a companion to his pictures, Turner’s wrote a serial poetic narrative he called "The Fallacies of Hope," about the insignificance of human aspiration. It includes the lines, "False hope! as fatal when the end denies, As when it yields the long-expected prize." In other words, win or lose, you feel awful.
"J. M. W. Turner: Painting Set Free" is at the Getty Center through May 24. The Getty says this exhibit is Turner's first major exhibition on the West Coast, and the first devoted to his later years. It was organized by Tate Britain in association with the J. Paul Getty Museum and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.