Turner Unfinished [暂时稿件]
David Blayney Brown
Can a picture ever be finished? Or is it, for the artist at least, a living organism to be revisited, modified, reimagined? Does the idea behind it keep it alive, or can the work provoke new ones? And how might a painter’s evolving technique, handling, or palette affect the realization of these ideas over time？ J. M. W. Turner is a particularly interesting case study because so much of his work— including all aspects of his output, from sketches through works in progress to exhibited paintings, as well as many thousands of drawings and watercolors — has stayed together, both according to, and far beyond, his own wishes; and because it has been used so selectively by art historians to present interpretations that Turner would have neither recognized nor endorsed. Since the Museum of Modern Art’s exhibition “Turner: Imagination and Reality” in 1966, works generalized as “unfinished” have come to be seen through a Modernist lens as abstract or Impressionist before their time, to the extent that their apparently precocious insights have been treated as the ultimate destination of Turner’s art. Occasionally it can even seem as if Turner is only validated by his later impact on Monet, Rothko, or Twombly.
We need to remember the history. The Turner Bequest (today largely housed at Tate Britain, London),was received by the British nation in 1856, after years of wrangling in the Court of Chancery following a challenge to his will by his surviving relatives. It was vastly bigger and more comprehensive than intended by Turner, who seems to have envisaged leaving only one hundred finished pictures for a “Turner Gallery” (hopefully at London’s National Gallery) and made no provision for the several hundred oils of other kinds or for any of the works on paper. This suggests, if not a resounding “yes” to the first question posed by this essay, then at least an assumption that, for Turner, obviously unfinished or preparatory work either was considered to be of no public interest or was not what he wanted to be judged by in the long term. But Turner’s definition of “finished” was itself fluid and not so straightforward. The hundred pictures he reserved for a future memorial gallery (mostly hung or stacked in the private gallery at his London house) were exhibition works, painted over many years, which he either had not sold, had deliberately kept, or, in a few cases, had bought back or retrieved in exchange for others. At least when he had first sent them for exhibition, he must have considered them completed. Yet among them were pictures he had shown again, years later, after extensive repainting. These included an early picture of an iron foundry, overpainted for the Royal Academy in 1847 to depict the recent casting of a statue of the Duke of Wellington (fig. 1), and a Claudean seaport, Regulus, first shown in a private exhibition in Rome in 1828 and significantly reworked for the British Institution in 1837. In the first example, the work became a picture of two halves: the somberly toned early painting visible on the right, and the red, white, and yellow impasto on the left forming the blazing crucible from which the new statue springs to life. The second picture is more homogeneous, unified by rays of sunlight reflected in water, but the processes at work in its second coming are less easy to reconstruct.
Contemporary anecdotes claim that Turner added the rays in the London exhibition room, but modern technical analysis does not confirm this, suggesting instead that alterations were made mainly to repair a tear and damage sustained in transit back from Rome. Whatever the extent of Turner’s subsequent changes, it was one thing to go through his own inventory and locate canvases to repaint and repurpose in this way; quite another, as happened in 1849, to work over a previously sold picture, The Wreck Buoy (fig. 2), while it was hanging in an exhibition, on loan from its owner (who was, understandably, somewhat put out). Given that Turner was also perfectly capable of pressuring an engraver to make radical alterations while reproducing an earlier picture, there must be more going on here than an artist’s typical recycling of imagery or materials.
What did Turner regard as unfinished—if not, given the right opportunity, his whole back catalogue? The Thames above Waterloo Bridge (pl. 1 27) looks like a picture that Turner stopped working on in about 1835—40, just short of completion. Standard exhibition size, it has a taut composition, incident, and at least some carefully worked, finely painted areas. These features also characterize the sparkling Seascape, Folkestone of about 1845(private collection). Both examples more closely approach finished pictures than obviously sketchier canvases such as Margate(?), from the Sea (pl. 1 28), Rough Sea (pl. 1 29), and Sun Setting over a Lake (pl. 130). None of these oils were exhibited by Turner; and while Folkestone was never part of the Bequest, there is no proof of Turner selling it or giving it away. In short, like many oils in the Bequest that are not obviously oil sketches or works in progress, its status is uncertain and indicated only by the fact that Turner did not exhibit it.
Contemporary evidence for Turner leaving a picture unfinished exists in only a handful of cases, Sunset from the Top of the Rigi (pl. 131) being one. Along with a companion view of Lake Lucerne and the Bay of Uri (fig. 3), it was begun during or after the winter of 1844—45 for a client, Francis McCracken, but never completed after McCracken rejected the pictures, along with two Venetian scenes. Later an admirer of the Pre-Raphaelites, McCracken may have been uncomfortable with Turner’s ethereal late style, more evident in the Rigi scene because the artist was trying to imagine a view he had not seen, having never actually climbed the mountain. Correspondence shows that he hoped to, but owing to a breakdown in his health, he had to work from tourist prints and his general memory of the area at lake level. Both painter and patron must have realized the picture was going nowhere, and while one can see Turner overpainting and laying down pale color with a palette knife as a basis for renewed efforts, it remained unresolved. Today, with its pattern of marks in grays, pink, and lemon, Sunset needs only an inscribed classical quotation to turn it into a Twombly. But this is the result of an incomplete process, irresolution rather than abstraction avant la lettre. Nor, emphatically, is it a foretaste of Impressionism, since far from being painted en plein air or in a moment of spontaneous inspiration, it is imagined, labored, and painted in the studio.
Turner was a reluctant and occasional pleinairiste. He made many drawings outdoors, but fewer watercolors and still fewer oils—at a time when oil sketching outdoors was widely practiced and when even exhibited pictures might appear with the subtitle “A Sketch from Nature.” In effect if not always reality, such pictures played to a romantic sense of immediacy and transience, and they were seen as more “authentic” than studio works. John Constable based his avowed “natural painture [sic]” on outdoor oil sketches and sometimes even worked on exhibition pictures outdoors as well, in order to improve his “finishing.” Oil sketches can seem paradoxical things, complete in themselves having captured whatever motif, effect, or composition the artist wanted, but also with the potential to be elaborated later in separate or larger works. Sometimes, however, the sketch itself might become a picture. Goring Mill and Church (fig. 4) is one of a group of oils painted by Turner about 1805, it is said, outdoors from a boat. Seeming simultaneously to qualify as sketches and as beginnings for pictures, such works are thoughtfully composed, on canvases of typical exhibition sizes, with carefully worked passages such as buildings or groups of trees alongside more loosely indicative ones. Hence they can reasonably be called unfinished. Like many unexhibited works in the Bequest, they were probably set aside in the studio for future work, and they give some indication of what completed pictures of comparable subjects (of which Turner painted a number in the following years) would have looked like at a similar stage of development. The use of a white ground to give luminosity to the image is particularly striking.
In later life, Turner’s increasingly innovative color and handling appeared in both exhibited and unexhibited works, and his studio sketches and experiments must have enabled him to trial such effects without the pressure of a formal project. But, as Constable prepared his famous “six foot” exhibition landscapes via full-scale sketches, Turner began making separate “sample studies” for finished watercolors. These were much more elaborate than the Colour Beginnings he had made in previous years to test palette and layout. Stopping just shy of final compositional development, the samples were not so much preparatory, nor consciously unfinished, as designed for his agent Thomas Griffith to show to potential clients as the basis for commissions. This new working method may help to shed light on a group of contemporary oils, including Inverary Pier and Loch Fyne (ca. 1845; Yale Center for British Art, New Haven) and the much-loved Norham Castle, Sunrise (fig. 5), which are among the most beautiful, but also tantalizing and enigmatic, of all Turner’s late paintings. None were exhibited, and Inverary was one of only a few that somehow left the studio. Wonderfully fresh though they look, they are reinventions of much earlier prints, transcribed from black and white into color that dissolves solid matter into light and air. Perhaps these too are samples for paintings never made; or perhaps they are finished in themselves, testing ideas of what pictures might be or what collectors and critics would one day understand. Or is this hindsight, and they are simply unfinished, still in the process of becoming? Whatever Modernist theory would have them be, Turner took their secrets to the grave.
原版英文摘录自：《Unfinished》 ISBN：978-1-58839-586-3 pp.168-171