I had a wee bit of time to kill in Edinburgh yesterday and I happened to be passing the Mound, so I popped into the National Gallery to see the ‘Turner in January’ exhibition.
It’s a lovely exhibition of Turner watercolours. For a long time, I never saw the point of Turner, until I saw an exhibition of his seascapes at Tate Liverpool a few years ago, which was absolutely gorgeous. Tremendous colours. There are plenty of watercolours in the Edinburgh exhibition and they showed the same interest and subtlety. I particularly liked some of the pictures that have a very limited use of colour – for example, the one of Rye, Sussex. I wasn’t actually all that excited by the new acquisition that they’re trumpeting, but it was certainly getting a lot of attention.
The show was quite busy for midweek, with a good bit of shuffling to get a good view. Sorry to the person I inadvertently reversed into!
What I didn’t realise was that this exhibition is an annual event. Not sure why I hadn’t heard of it before – probably because I’d only been in the National Gallery a couple of times before the last 6 months, when I’ve started going quite regularly.
Anyway, I really like the story of it. Henry Vaughan (a contemporary of Turner’s and a prolific collector of his work) gave a collection of watercolours to the gallery in 1899. But he made a special provision – that the watercolours should only ever be displayed in January (so that they wouldn’t fade). Something about that really tickles me. “It’s January, so it much be Turner Month.” Because of this requirement, the watercolours are beautifully well-preserved.
And January, as well as being the practical time for the lowest light, is a great time to see such soothing and subtle works. After all the garishness of the Christmas period, this is proper, quiet, hangover-appropriate art. It’s good for the soul.