Turner, Monet and Cy Twombly: Sublime Tate Liverpool show makes the right connections

Turner and Monet have been paired before, but in a bold move, Tate Liverpool has grouped them with the abstract American artist Cy Twombly in an exhibition of the trio's later work. It's a masterstroke, says Adrian Hamilton

Mix and match has become quite the thing for museums at the moment, as curators try and break out from conventional retrospectives to themes and associations that bring widely disparate artists together. Turner, that most solitary of geniuses, has been placed alongside Claude, Whistler and the old masters. Monet crops up everywhere, including with Turner. Cy Twombly, the American abstract artist who died last year, was only recently paired with his hero, Poussin, at Dulwich Picture Gallery.

Now, Tate Liverpool has combined all three in a show called Turner Monet Twombly: Later Paintings. Twombly wasn't meant originally to be the third of the trio. Moderna Museet of Stockholm, which first commissioned the show, originally wanted Rothko as the modern partner. It was the curator, Jeremy Lewison, who suggested Twombly instead as being more contemporary and more apt.

How right he was. We all know Turner and Monet. The Tate has paired them before. But Twombly, who is increasingly being seen as the master he was since his death, brings a whole new dimension to what otherwise might have been a very correct but staid exhibition. Set against Turner's The Parting of Hero and Leander from 1837, Twombly's versions of Hero and Leandro from 150 years later seem to pick up the surging, stormy sea of Turner and make an astonishing narrative of the abstract swirls. With his swirling, spattering acrylics on paper he seems to dance hand in hand with his predecessor's astonishing watercolour sketches and half-finished oils like Turner's near abstract Rough Seas of 1840-5.

It is Monet that seems the odd man out initially. His study of the Brittany Coast, Les Pyramides de Port-Coton, Effet de Soleil (1886), painted in deep anguish after the death of his first wife, has the roughness of the sea but not the driving sweep that draws you into the vortex of Twombly and Turner's work. Where they use thumb and palette-knife to force the paint, Monet appears tied to the short brush stroke. Where Turner would make buildings and nature part of sensation, Monet would still have form held fast beneath the effect of light he observed so acutely. Even his view of the front of Rouen Cathedral "with morning effect" of 1894 seems more a study of a building under particular light than Turner and Twombly's embrace of mood and emotion.

But then, as the century ends, Monet suddenly seems to learn the lesson of the Turners he has seen in London on his visits. Atmosphere and sensibility rather than motif become his subject in a series of gloriously misty and ambiguous pictures of Waterloo Bridge and the Thames from 1902 and 1904 before he goes on to his last, late obsessive pursuit of picturing his garden in Giverny while the First World War exploded all around him. If in his late pictures of Venice he can't match Turner's sense of evaporation of sea mist and earthly time, in his flower studies of his old age he finds himself a whole new theme and makes it entirely his own.

Tate Liverpool is lucky enough to have five of his lily ponds, including canvases from the Albertina in Vienna and the Fondation Beyeler in Switzerland. With them and The Japanese Bridge and The Path Under the Rose Trellises painted in the 1920s in the last years of his life, Monet appears as one with Twombly's Untitled (Sunset) series of 1986 hung alongside and Turner's late studies of Sunset and Sun Setting Over a Lake nearby.

By settling on the "later" paintings of his chosen trio, Jeremy Lewison is anxious to avoid any suggestion that he is subscribing to the fashionable pre-occupation with late style. Instead, he pursues in a series of canvases and Twombly's three-dimensional work the common preoccupations of these artists with loss, melancholy and failing energy.

The connections are obviously there to the extent that all three had the ageing artist's preoccupation with revisiting the themes of their youth and the anguish of declining libido. But there is a temptation, which the exhibition does not entirely avoid, of finding parallels and common cause simply because you've already decided to hang these figures together. It is true, but not very enlightening, to say that all three spanned different centuries and virtually overlapped each other (Turner's dates were 1775-1851, Monet's 1840-1926 and Twombly's 1928-2011).

There is an obvious connection between Turner's concern with departing friends and passing time in Peace – Burial at Sea and War. The Exile and the Rock Limpet of 1842 and Twombly's assembly of an Egyptian funerary boat, Winter's Passage: Luxor and his Thermopylae anti-war sculpture of 1992 but they don't add anything to each other. Still less does the inclusion of Monet's Vétheuil of 1901 because it was of the village where his first wife was buried and fits the chosen category of Naught So Sweet as Melancholy.

You can point out, as the show does, that both Turner and Twombly had a taste for adding words to their pictures and both had a concern with the fading (or in Twombly's time, already passed) classical civilisation of the Italy they painted with such devotion. But Twombly's homage to an Orpheus disappearing under the paint may make a similar point, but it has precious little interaction with Turner's visions of Venice. Twombly's last series, Camino Real, clearly has something sexual to it (the allusion to Tennessee Williams' play for a start) but to say that Monet is declaring the same thing in his Japanese Bridge is several bridges too far.

Wisely, the Tate has eschewed the didactic, with virtually no explanations on the walls (although plenty in the little exhibition guide that accompanies it). Refreshingly, it has also arranged the separate parts on an open plan so that you can see forward and backward to other parts in what is, after all, a largely artificial and uncomfortably titled division into themes. For what is so exhilarating about this exhibition is the "late style" that unites these creative sprits from different eras.

By the time of their last decades, Turner, Monet and Twombly had all abandoned fixed viewpoints and figuration for works that are so intense in their projection of atmosphere that they simply envelop you in their totality. Compare and contrast by all means. But the joy of this exhibition lies not in the themes or parallels but simply the conversation, as Lewison calls it, of three great painters at their fluent, fevered best.

 

Turner Monet Twombly: Later Paintings, Tate Liverpool (0845 604 7083) to 28 October
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Arts and Entertainment
James singer Tim Booth
latitude 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Lee says: 'I never, ever set out to offend, but it can be an accidental by-product'
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe judges were wowed by the actress' individual cooking style
Arts and Entertainment
Nicholas says that he still feels lucky to be able to do what he loves, but that there is much about being in a band he hates
musicThere is much about being in a band that he hates, but his debut album is suffused with regret
Arts and Entertainment
The singer, who herself is openly bisexual, praised the 19-year-old sportsman before launching into a tirade about the upcoming Winter Olympics

books
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Cryer and Ashton Kutcher in the eleventh season of Two and a Half Men

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

    A land of the outright bizarre
    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
    Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

    The worst kept secret in cinema

    A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
    Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
    Why do we have blood types?

    Are you my type?

    All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
    Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

    Honesty box hotels

    Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

    Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

    The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
    Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

    The 'scroungers’ fight back

    The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
    Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

    Fireballs in space

    Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
    A Bible for billionaires

    A Bible for billionaires

    Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
    Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

    Paranoid parenting is on the rise

    And our children are suffering because of it
    For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

    Magna Carta Island goes on sale

    Yours for a cool £4m
    Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn