Wednesday, October 24, 2007

National Gallery of Art: Hopper & Turner

The National Gallery’s two major fall shows — Edward Hopper and J.M.W. Turner — are both revealing about the artists, though in two very different ways. Turner, an English Romantic painter, is best known for his landscapes and seascapes, along with documentation of British war scenes. Hopper, a New Yorker who derived much of his inspiration from New England, painted iconic scenes of solitude, from wistful figures next to a clapboard house to solitary diners at an automat. The bulk of each artist’s work is canonical, ubiquitous, and expected.

The exhibits shine where they present early or late works that depart drastically from the mediums and themes that the two artists were known for — here Turner comes alive through rooms devoted to his late studies in watercolor and color theory, and Hopper’s early work, mostly sketches and etchings, present the similar themes that would come to dominate his oil paintings, but show an artist whose ideas about art changed greatly over time.

If we take the attendance in each gallery into consideration, Hopper is the fan-favorite, the accessible artist, the one people go to the NGA to see. Turner paints less about the scenes we, as Americans, know, but his work is glorious and edges towards the sublime.

Each exhibit is worth seeing, and they’re both going to take you a fair amount of time to see. I had planned to duck into the “Art of the Snapshot” as well, but ran out of time.

Hopper runs through January 21 and Turner through January 26.

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