Turner, Monet, Twombly at Moderna Museet, Stockholm

by Echo Hopkins, November 2011

Though an unlikely trio of painters, J.M.W. Turner, Claude Monet and Cy Twombly are the subject of a new show at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm. Other than their mutual fame, not much comes to mind at how the grouping of the three artists might comprise a congruent show. Where the curator Jeremy Lewison succeeds is in highlighting similarities between these monumental artists and the influence they exerted on one another.

The exhibition is divided into themes, “Atmosphere” being the first, which appropriately sets the tone for the rest of the show. There is no wall text to guide you, only a small booklet you are given upon entering. As viewer, then, you are given the option to either draw your own conclusions on the artworks, or to consult the curator’s words, presented in less invasively than text interspersed on the wall. A theme runs through the work on the walls: hazy paintings from Monet of the Rouen Cathedral and Waterloo Bridge, incomplete works by Turner and Orpheus by Twombly. There is a sense of serenity, muted colors, misty weather effects and shrouded mystery in each of the pieces, and though created decades apart, a mark of influence emerges across generations.

The connection between Turner and Monet is perhaps the most well-documented one, Turner being a great influence on the Impressionist movement. Though if Twombly’s presence here seems contrived, his descriptions of himself as a “romantic symbolist” and his likening himself with the great painters of the nineteenth century provide a way in. While many might imagine Twombly’s works as jarringly modernist when hung next to Turner’s and Monet’s, they co-exist harmoniously in the show through the color palettes and subject matter. In the next room, holding works that fall under “Beauty, Power and Space,” Twombly’s Hero and Leandro hangs adjacent to Turner’s violent seascapes and aside from the obvious similarity in the maritime topic, there is a parallel between the works’ turbulent nature and the way the brush strokes are laid onto the canvas.

As you move through the show, it continues to be evident that the three artists seemed to act as building blocks for one another, expanding on themes and similar techniques, and propelling themselves into modernity. Beginning with Turner and ending with Twombly, the exhibition traces the progression in the abstraction of the subject matter. Because of the show’s thematic organization—Fire, Water and Seasons—each artist’s interpretation is increasingly aligned with the times in which they were creating the works. Each of the artists were ground breaking in their own right in that each of their work looks unlike anything else being created during their respective eras. Maintaining their own sense of originality, these artists created work that followed contemporary trends whilst extracting inspirations from artists generations before their own respective eras.

Physically, the show is a manageable size and layout, with large open spaces that lead to smaller nooks where there is a compression of images all built on well-defined themes. The larger spaces house some of the blockbusters, Twombly’s Quattro Stagioni, Monet’s Poplars and Turner’s shipwreck images that are, understandably, works to get lost in. Admittedly, the connection between these works can sometimes be a stretch out of context, but the conversation takes shape as you progress throughout the show, culminating with Twombly’s stunning Blooming: A Scattering of Blossoms and Other Things, Monet’s Waterlillies and Turner’s Petworth paintings. All of these works, even though they may seem miles apart, manifest a universal theme of natural beauty. This show is full of pieces that pull you in as a viewer, allowing for you to sit and gaze transfixed in front of one work for extended periods of time. Despite the inherent and obvious differences, each artist is celebrated for creating beautiful works that are at once serene and turbulent—perfect marriages of chaos and calm.

Turner, Monet, Twombly
8 October 2011—15 January 2012
Moderna Museet, Stockholm