Bacon on the Bookshelf

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Life in the Time of Corona: Burial at Sea

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Everybody has to die of something.

I didn’t say “everyone” on purpose. Every Body has to die of something. Yet we cannot bear to let a loved one die. We don’t much like to think of our own death.

Underneath much of the conversation during Life in the Time of Corona lie these thoughts and half-thoughts, denials – and emotions.

The 19th century was better at death, at least in Western culture. The 19th century dealt with death all the time, as evidenced in their art. Also their music. And their books.

We are the privileged in 21st century America. Each of us can go to an Emergency Room and not be turned away. We feel that we have the right to deny death – or at least delay it. The 19th century felt no such right, and no such hubris.

I’m glad we are more frightened of death than they were. I am proud that we are. We benefit from the efforts of all who have come before us, in science and also in government. Life and death are always political questions. Yet we have things to learn from the 19th century too.

Art helps.

Today, I’m offering you a song from one of the greatest artists of the 20th century. Choose the life you want, and choose your remembrance.

I’m also happy to feature a virtual tour of a current exhibit at the Frist Art Museum with Carolyn Hall ~ UNC grad, Morehead scholar, mother, arts enthusiast.

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Two priests came ’round our house tonight
One young, one old, to offer prayers for the dying to serve the final rite
One to learn, one to teach which way the cold wind blows
And fussing and flapping in priestly black like a murder of crows

All this time the river flowed
Endlessly to the sea
If I had my way
I’d take a boat from the river
And I’d bury the old man
I’d bury him at sea

Blessed are the poor

For they shall inherit the earth

… As these words are spoken I swear I hear the old man laughin

What good is a used up earth and how could it be worth havin

All this time

The river flows

Endlessly

 

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From Carolyn Hall:

Many of the public spaces that house Nashville’s creative community have closed their doors due to COVID-19 forcing creatives from chefs to musicians to dancers to alter their offerings or take their programming online. The temporary closure that hit particularly close to home for me is that of the Frist Art Museum which had just opened four new exhibitions anchored by the spectacular J.M.W. Turner Quest for the Sublime, February 20 – May 31, 2020. I’m a new docent at the Frist and thought Bacon readers in Nashville and beyond might like to learn more about this beautiful exhibition using links to printed materials found on the Frist website and some of my iPhone photos from our late February docent walk-throughs with David Blayney Brown, curator of 19th-century art at Tate Britain in London, and Mark Scala, chief curator at the Frist. All works in this exhibition have come from Tate. To get a feel for the magnitude of this exhibition, which began as the dream of Frist Art Museum founders two decades ago, you can read John Dorfman’s article in the current issue of Art and Antiques, “The Heights of the Sublime: The Frist in Nashville hosts a visiting delegation of Turner masterpieces.”

PHOTO 1

Joseph Mallard William Turner (1775-1851) is considered by many to be Britain’s greatest artist. While you may be familiar with some of his seascape oil paintings, there is much more to his vast body of work including thousands of watercolors. The gallery guide provides an excellent introduction to Turner and the exhibition.

One of my favorite rooms in the exhibition is tucked away in a side gallery painted a rich, deep burgundy and includes one of Turner’s sketchbooks under glass accompanied by a “swipe-able” iPad with photos of each page from the sketchbook.

PHOTO 2

The walls of the gallery are filled with a number of Turner’s watercolor sample studies of the Rigi Mountain…

PHOTO 3A

and of Lake Lucerne…

PHOTO 3B

… made in varying weather conditions with different lighting that might remind one of Monet’s haystack series. And, to put Turner and his brilliance in historical perspective, these works were created in the 1840s while Monet’s haystacks were painted between 1890-91, nearly 50 years later.

The focal point of one of the main galleries in the exhibition is “The Deluge”, one of Turner’s large, earlier works depicting the Biblical flood, but what I found even more amazing were the two, smaller, more abstract, 31’ x 31” square canvases depicting the “morning after” and the “evening of” the deluge.

The swirling, circular vortex in each painting drew me closer and drew me in. A similar swirling sky is the focal point of the next gallery’s “Snow Storm: Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth”.

PHOTO 6

Turner’s skies have stayed with me, and I’ve begun to take note of our own late afternoon and evening swirling skies.

PHOTO 5

If you’re looking for activities for your family, cloud and atmospheric weather observations are just one of many suggested activities in the Frist’s J.M.W. Turner Educator Guide. In addition, the Frist Looking Guide provides great ways to look at and connect with art whether in person or online.

One of my favorite works, “Peace — Burial at Sea”,  has an eerie connection to the current global pandemic. The painting depicts the burial at sea off the coast of Gibraltar of Turner’s friend, the artist David Wilkie who had contracted typhoid during his journey and died while onboard. His body was buried at sea so as not to spread the illness to those on shore. While the color black was not typically used this intensely in 19th c. painting, Turner chose to use the blackest black as a funerary color to memorialize his friend.

PHOTO 7

One work in the final gallery, Three Seascapes, caught the eye of veteran docent Teri Cohen who pointed out to the rest of us the visual connection between this piece and the work of 20th c. painter Mark Rothko whose paintings are known for their horizontal rectangles of color. The curators encouraged us to look at Three Seascapes both “right side up” and “upside down” in order to see the three different seascapes — a swath in the middle serves as the sky to one landscape and the sea to another. Fascinating!

PHOTO 8

Teri shared additional information about the Turner-Rothko connection including that in 2009, works by Turner and Rothko were displayed together at Tate Britain.

I hope that you’ve enjoyed a quick look at just a few of the nearly 80 works in this stunning exhibition. You can find more images and information on the Frist website and via the Frist’s daily social media posts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. For an exercise in visualization, the exhibition audio guide is accessible via the Frist app, and for a deeper dive into art history, Jim Womack, art historian and retired Jackson Family Chair of Visual and Performing Arts at MBA, is presenting a three-part course via Zoom, and you might have time to catch the last installment, The Sublime as an Aesthetic, on April 21.

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PHOTO CITATIONS:

Photo at top of post: J.M.W. Turner (1775–1851). Small Boats beside a Man-o’-War, 1796–97. Gouache and watercolor on paper.

PHOTO 1: Gallery Entry Mural

PHOTO 2: The Lucerne Sketchbook, 1844.

PHOTO 3A: The Blue Rigi, Sunrise, 1842. Watercolor on paper.

PHOTO 3B: Four Watercolors of Lake Lucerne. Top Left: Küssnacht, Lake of Lucerne: Sample Study, ca. 1842-43. Graphite, watercolor, and pen on paper. Bottom Left: Brunnen from the Lake of Lucerne: Sample Study, 1843-45. Graphite, watercolor, and gouache on paper. Top Right: Lucerne by Moonlight, Sample Study, ca. 1842-43. Watercolor on paper. Bottom Right: Lake Lucerne: Sample Study, 1844. Graphite and watercolor on paper

PHOTO 4 L: Light and Colour (Goethe’s Theory) – the Morning after the Deluge – Moses Writing the Book of Genesis, exhibited 1843. Oil on canvas. R: Shade and Darkness — the Evening of the Deluge, exhibited 1843. Oil on canvas.

PHOTO 6 Looking into a gallery featuring Snow Storm: Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth, exhibited 1842. Oil on canvas.

PHOTO 5 Evening Sky in Nashville, Week of March 3, 2020.

PHOTO 7 Peace – Burial at Sea, exhibited 1842. Oil on canvas.

PHOTO 8 Three Seascapes, ca. 1827. Oil on canvas.

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Thank you, Carolyn! What most inspires me about this post? An art exhibit can change the way you see our Nashville sky. xoxo

21 Comments

  1. Thank you, Carolyn, for the tiny tour inside this stirring exhibition! And, Jennifer, for reminding me how much I like Sting. xo

  2. Thank you Carolyn for your thoughtful insights – and I can’t wait to dig deeper in to the Turner/ Rothko comparison! Jennifer – I look forward to your posts every morning!

  3. Thank you Carolyn and Jennifer! I am thrilled to know of the current access of seeing the paintings with the Frist Looking Guide and enjoyed this post on Turner very much.

  4. Thanks for the tour Carolyn! I’m looking forward to a day when you can give us an actual walking tour in the museum.

  5. Thank you so much, Carolyn! Katie Greenebaum and I walked down to the Frist on the last weekend before Safer at Home kicked in, and I’m so grateful we had the chance to spend time with this extraordinary exhibition. It’s heartbreaking to know these paintings are sitting there in the Frist right now yet I can’t return as I often do with exhibitions at the Frist. Your virtual tour is such a help. This pandemic is giving us a reminder that the Sublime is right here in our back yard.

  6. Thank you, Carolyn and Jennifer. What a pleasure to see and read about these incredible works of art!

  7. Love this – such a “sublime”, calm way to begin the day. And I did not know Carolyn was a Morehead scholar, but that is no surprise. Smart & thoughtful. Thank you both for this post!

  8. When I studied art history in college, I fell in love with Turner’s works. A treat to be reminded of power of his works. What a fitting poem and art choice. Thank you Carolyn, and you are as kind and fun as you are intelligent and accomplished!

  9. I side with Stewart Copeland in The Police dynamic, but the paintings are amazing.

  10. Thanks so much for your post about J.M.W. Turner and images from the Frist exhibition. I had hoped to make my first trip to Nashville to see this exhibition. Alas, that has proven impossible. I can never get enough of Turner and recently saw the Watercolors exhibition at the Mystic Seaport Museum in 2019. There times!!!! Now I’m trying to buy the exhibition catalogue for the show at the Frist, “Quest for the Sublime.” I have tried to reach the Frist Museum Shop to no avail.

    • Hi Diane! I will follow up with the Frist and see how you can get your hands on a catalogue. Back in touch early next week I hope! xoxo

      • Thank you. I would be ever so grateful. From the photos posted of the exhibition I know that this Turner show is spectacular! At least the exhibition catalogue would be a wonderful substitute. I also took the audio tour with my iPhone. Loved that too. Great sound effects. I’ll be joining the third installment of the lecture series this evening.

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