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William Turner's yellow fever

- 04/05/2021
joseph mallord william turner


Today, the British erect him as the greatest of their painters.
Yesterday, they were laughing.

His contemporaries and critics take a cunning pleasure in regularly decrying his unfortunate tendency to put ocher tones everywhere on his canvases.

Accused of overloading his works, critics said he had yellow fever and mocked his "yellow mustard":
"This gentleman used to paint with cream and chocolate, egg yolk and blackcurrant jelly... Here, he offers all its battery of cooking utensils".

Many of his paintings are then perceived as a cluster of unbelievable and rough material.

Yet, William Tuner, who is nowadays considered the Master of Light, did not care about these jealous reactions.
As impertinent as he was audacious, he even joked about it, no criticism could make him unmake it: yellow will be the sovereign color of his palette.


"Turner is definitely an original painter, perhaps even more so than any other British artist ever produced, and he has no equal in his knowledge of colors, it is this superiority which gives him great admiration and Many enemies."
This is how Gentleman's Magazine described Turner in 1829 at the apogee of his career.

The great innovation of William Turner stands in his use of light.
Every work, every painting, every painting is immersed in a golden veil and the light seems to radiate from the inside.

The latter takes on a truly metaphorical and spiritual character in Turner: on the one hand, it advocates the omnipotence of the sun, and on the other it refers to the color theory of the scholar Johann Goethe, who gives them a symbolic dimension.

For the German writer, cold tones are associated with negative, sad and pessimistic values, while warm tones are linked to positive and optimistic values.
Yellow, the color of gold and sun, is synonymous with vitality and strength.
This noble color dazzles and fascinates William Turner.



There are colors badly loved by the history of Art.
Yellow is one of these.

Certainly, a certain Van Gogh uses it virtuoso in the heart of his so-called Provence period, but usually painters prefer to play in discreet little touches.

William Turner uses it without limits to make worlds emerge or to brush the flames of the sky of Genoa, the sunset over the waves of the Atlantic, the clouds of Scotland, the powerful Venetian mists...

After deviating from academic standards to clear his paintings, William Turner eagerly avails himself of the Industrial Revolution, which saw the birth of all kinds of new pigments.
Thirsty for paint and fond of new chromatic experiments, Turner uses them as soon as they arrive on the market.
First on British soil to test the cobalt blue, produced from 1802, he starts to use in 1814 the brand new yellows of chrome and chrome clear lemon, which come to dethrone his ancestral ocher.

Ian Warrell, curator of the exhibition "Turner et la couleur", during the summer of 2016 at the Hôtel de Caumont in Aix-en-Provence, analyzes his technique: "He structures his pieces around a chromatic dominant and builds a harmonious composition from a choice of basic chords."

william turner artworks
Yellow is the keystone and the most beautiful note of Turner's colorful symphonies.
It tangles off the blue papers which he disguises in Bath and which he likes to use when traveling.
It flirts languorously with abstraction, Blue moonlight on yellow sands, in small watercolor, that encloses a whole world.
It revives, when Turner marries the sun of Provence and Italy.

Finally, in Venice, it allows itself all the fantasies, when a thousand shades of yellow irradiate her Departure for the ball (1846): slightly diffuse or bestially worked with a knife, accented with highlights of white, the sky and the sea melt, dance together and merge.
And, towards the end, it is a deluge.
In the painting Light and Color-In the morning after the flood, a solar storm sweeps away Moses, who will make Monet says:
"Turner knew how to paint with his eyes open."

Even in his last retreat in Margate, south-east of London, in the gray rain of the Kent coast, Turner infuses the small village with austral and colored hues.

For his rival John Constable "he seems to paint with tinted steam, so evanescent and so aerial".

This yellow has powers: it is at the same time color and light.
An ideal ally for a painter who, like no other, could play on transparencies and clouds.



Ode Droit is an accomplished painter who, for the past ten years, has devoted herself exclusively to her personal expression and her favorite subject, the study of light.

Inspired by the works of masters such as William Turner, Nicolas de Staël and Mark Rothko, Ode Droit seeks to transcribe in her works the emotion that emerges from the contemplation of the landscapes and to reveal the luminous intensity that is always inconsistent and rich in nuances.

Increasingly oriented towards purification, her plastic practice has evolved thanks to the multiplicity of techniques used: acrylic, ink and water wax.
This palette of creation allows her to constantly play with the transparency of the colors to try to extract the light and to translate its radiance into a surrounding nature, eternally changing.



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