Arts & Entertainment
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William Turner’s sites in County Durham
Raby Castle, the Seat of the Earl of Darlington, 1817 : Walters Art Museum, Baltimore
William Turner's work and reputation recently saw him added to the design of the new £20 note, which may be the highest national honour we can confer. Now that local visitor attractions have reopened, we in Durham again have the opportunity to revisit his strong links with the County and the dramatic works he produced on our doorsteps.
Images: Raby Castle, the Seat of the Earl of Darlington, 1817 : Walters Art Museum, Baltimore. Durham Cathedral, 1798-99: Royal Academy
JMW Turner was born in London in 1775 & his talent was obvious from childhood. He was selected by the Royal Academy for formal training aged just 14, and would become it's youngest ever inductee. At 22 he visited Durham on his formative 1797 tour, already as a well-travelled & adept architectural draughtsman. However it was in the North that his talent for landscape painting blossomed.
On a 1000 mile journey through Durham & Northumberland, the lakes, & the abbeys of Yorkshire, he learned to enhance rather than simply record the terrain, and convey his own personal impression of a location, rather than reproduce a photo-realistic rendering. On this tour he became the 'landscape poet', as which he is viewed today, able to inject emotion, psychology, and the sublime into his scenes. He single-handedly raised the status of landscape painting in the art world.
Turner’s approach, emphasising individual experience over & above literal copying, was attuned to the idealistic Romantic movement of the day so it was unsurprising that Turner would be drawn to Durham during the early part of the 19th century. Durham, like the lakes, had become a hub of the Romantic scene, attracting visitors like Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Lord Byron, John Ruskin, William Wordsworth & Sir Walter Scott among many others.
Turner was in Durham again in 1801 & in 1816, when he sketched High
Force Waterfall, but it was in 1817 that he made his most extensive tour of the region as a mature artist, producing sketches of Durham City, Brancepeth Castle, Bishop Auckland & Witton Le Wear, and taking in the Durham Dales, Barnard Castle & Lune Forest. The most substantial work to result from this trip was his oil painting of Raby Castle, which was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1818, and which is notable for its emphasis on the sky.
Turner was inspired by the light in Durham's landscapes & he had a dizzying ability to capture light & atmospherics. It was this, alongside his capacity for expressing the subjective impression of a panorama, which made him a key influence on the Impressionist movement, as well as on the American modernists & Abstract Expressionists that followed, notably, Mark Rothko, but also on the work of Whistler, Monet & several others.
One of our greatest painters, Turner’s scenes can often best be experienced in situ, when the weather permits.
Sites like Raby Castle, High Force, Durham Cathedral, and the Bowes museum are of course well worth a visit in their own right, but for a new perspective on familiar territory, try following The "Turner Trail" of local places where he stayed, painted, and where he is exhibited. You can find it on the website, ThisIsDurham.com
Idiot Prayer: Nick Cave Alone At Alexandra Palace: 5th November 2020, Vue Cinema, Darlington
Those who long for the return of live music to our venues should not miss the transmission of Nick Cave’s live act, showing at Cinemas across the north of England this month. Being 2020, it’s a concert but not as we know it. In response to venues closing across the country, Nick Cave collaborated with award-winning cinematographer Robbie Ryan to record a solo performance alone in the lofty surroundings of the West Hall, Alexandra Palace, in June this year.
Cave has been releasing novel, challenging work since the 70s, steadily building an army of dedicated listeners and impressing critics worldwide. In that time he has achieved commercial success not only with his band ‘The Bad Seeds’ but as an acclaimed composer of musical scores. Some of his best known work now includes compositions for films like The Road, or Lawless & of course, his track ‘Red Right Hand’ appears in several movies & TV shows, most prominently as the theme song for Peaky Blinders.
In this show described by the Guardian as “utterly magnetic” in a 5-star review, Cave again showcased his creativity in the format as well as the content of the production.
It remains to be seen whether having an audience but no performer, at a broadcast featuring a performer but no audience, will prove to be successful, or strictly a historical oddity, a relic of an age of public restrictions. Whatever else, it promises to be an opportunity to catch a once-in–a generation talent at the peak of his powers, in an undoubtedly memorable & unique experience - even by the standards of 2020.