A year of travel brings thousands of experiences for lucky Ruth and me. 2013 was no exception. But as we enter 2014 and I look back, one rather small incident stands out as Best.
We were in Edinburgh, Scotland, with Trish and John. They wanted to go to the Castle. We had already been there, so we went instead to the free Scottish National Gallery. It was being extensively remodeled. We didn’t know. Not much was out, so before we went upstairs and for no particular reason we stopped at the Research Library and Prints and Drawing Study Room.
This institution has an internationally important print and drawing collection. Open to the public as well as researchers, it holds over 30,000 works from the early Renaissance to the late 19th century.
Among its treasures is a J. M. W. Turner collection donated by Henry Vaughan, Director of the National Gallery in London, in 1900. It consists of 38 watercolors that are exhibited only in January according to Vaughan’s wishes. January is the darkest month so less damaging to works of a light-sensitive nature. For the rest of the year, they can only be shown to visitors once a day on a first-request basis. Since we were the first to ask that July morning, we were honored with access to the entire Turner collection.
English master Joseph Mallord William Turner became an artist when he was 15 and worked for 61 years. His output, mainly landscape painting like the one above, was astonishing. He took extensive sketching trips to The Alps, Venice, etc. The largest collection of his works is in Tate Britain in London. He is not especially well-known in the U.S. because few museums have bought or exhibit his work. The one above belongs to IMA, the Indianapolis Museum of Art. Driven by his personality and his passion for art, Turner didn’t write an autobiography and was a recluse, a mystery to his closest associates. His known correspondence, about 350 letters, avoids personal matters. They dealt with business.
Ruth and my business that July morning was to pull Turner after Turner from a huge wooden rack where they were stored vertically to study them giddily. Used to being told not to get too near to or touch art works, we couldn’t believe we had complete access to such valuable and important watercolor paintings.