BgArt News Blog
Thursday, April 06, 2006
  Most Expensive British Painting by JMW Turner
most expensive british paintingJoseph Mallord William Turner's painting of Venice has become the most expensive British painting to be sold at auction. The work titled "Giudecca, La Donna della Salute and San Giorgio", sold at Christies in New York for $35.8 million (£20.5 million), breaking the previous record for a British painting by almost $15 million. JMW Turner broke his own auction record by about $25 million, with his "Seascape" painting selling for $10 million back in 1984.
Turner's vision of Venice sells for £20m to become most expensive British painting
Nicholas Hall, Christie's international director for old masters, who took the buyer's bids, said: "This is a great painting. It's an incredibly rare painting and it fully deserved to make this record for the artist which is more than three times the previous amount ever achieved by a Turner at auction. "In my personal view, Turner is the greatest of all British artists. This was a perfectly preserved example of his work and an absolutely beautiful composition." The Independent
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BgArt News Blog Comments:
This is a great example of the question, "Does it matter if people paint from photos?" Imagine Turner made this picture from a photo, sitting in England. Would it have the same value? If a painting is not made from photos, then the content of the painting tells more of a story -- because the artist had to have a closer connection with the content (for example, have been in Venice.)

In my own work, I see the same effect. If I have birds in a picture, and they look realistic, it means that I was walking around for days with a sketchbook, making quick drawings of birds, and that I used those studies to paint the birds. That is different from copying from a photo. More difficult, and more fun.
What if we didn't know whether he used a photo to do the painting or not?
I would be a little dissapointed if he had never been to Venice, but would completely understand if the finished oil painting was done in a studio back in England, from sketches.
If Turner or any old masters had access to the digital cameras we have today, Im sure they would use them too. Photos are just too useful to ignore, especially if we ignored them for reasons of purity or romanticism.
You make a key point: we don't know what we are looking at when we look at a painting today. That is a big problem for artists. Why should they do the extra work, go out and sketch the birds from life? (That ain't easy, by the way.)

As for avoiding photos for reasons of purity or romanticism -- what is art about, if not a search for purity, truth. I agree, this sounds romantic. But that is part of what makes art so special.

One of my favorite painters is Richard Estes, the photorealist. I enjoy his paintings because they are great artworks, and also because I know what I am looking at -- a painting of a photo. That is pure and artistic at the same time. But a painting from a snap-shot in Venice? Well, okay, as long as I know that is what it is.
A photograph captures fleeting moments better than your eye a flying bird perhaps. So, using photographs is helpful in maybe getting detail. This is not to say that going out and drawing/sketching/painting real life gives you less detail. Those are two completely different things. Like BgArt News Blog said, photography is too useful to ignore.

what if one day it's revealed that certain masters painted from a photograph (hypothetical of course)...would we suddenly see that work differently? Or would we continue to appreciate it's aesthetic value? I don't think knowing how someone painted something changes my appreciation for the work. I don't need to know if it were painted from life or a photograph to feel like it's a good piece. A good painting is a still a good painting regardless.
Jan van Eyck has some great paintings of flying birds in the Ghent Altarpiece (early 15th c).

There is no doubt that photographs can capture some things, record them, better than the eye and mind. That's why it's so useful, also for painting.

But to avoid photos is interesting. For example, in an earlier comment a person said that, because of being disabled, it was impossible to get to figure drawing classes. Therefore, this artist uses photos of figures. That's reasonable. But think of this. If this artist worked from imagination, then the paintings would reflect more of the artist and the artist's life. Perhaps proportions of the figures might not be right, but perhaps the figures would be interesting in other ways. I've spent lots of time at figure drawing classes, but I still think my best work is from imagination (and yes, the proportions come out weird).

So I agree, the photo can record some things better than the eye. But the mind of the artist is capable of other things that a photograph cannot capture. I don't work from photos, and I am keenly aware of the sacrifice this entails. But I also see the benefits, and that's why I chose this way. Photos can also be a barrier.

Another point you mention is that a good painting is a good painting, regardless of how it was made. This is a reasonable statement. But consider this: would a good replica of the Mona Lisa be as good as the original? In a physical sense, it might be better (no cracks, for example). But you would never get the Louvre to trade it for theirs. The reason is that, it does matter how a painting was made. It matters who made it, obviously. Why should other aspects of the process be less important? That is not to say that a work from a photo is inherently less valuable -- I mention Richard Estes above as one of my favorites. But I do believe that the use of photography is something to consider when looking at a painting.

Certainly it is with respect to Jan van Eyck's flying birds.
Haven't read it in more than half century but I continue to see citations to Malraux's Museums Without Walls. It includes one of the better of many discussions of "what does it matter if it is identical to Rembrandt but not a Rembrandt...and you know it is not a Rembrandt". My guess is that few of us would look at what we know is not by Rembrandt (or any contemporary you might respect)in the same way as we would if we thought it was what the guy in question wrought.
Now that I think of it, I am not going tocompare my newly purchased
Stepanova with her works in MoMA--not after paying for a two sided frame so as to see both sides of the sheet. I have the story well worked out; a German soldier in 1942
happened to be an art lover,so grabbed it off the wall of a Russian
home as they romped through those thousands of miles early in the war. In the tough days of four power control in Berlin he sold it to feed his family. The art lover who bought it kept it hidden for 60 years but when he died his children found it hidden behind a false wall. Say,do you want to see my new Stepanova, the one she had hanging in her bedroom for many years.
That's a good point Karl. It does matter how a painting was made. I think the Mona Lisa example is more about reproduction or copying a work, which is a tibute to the real painting, and I think would always be inferior to the real work.
With a photo that you have taken yourself, you are doing the same thing as the painter sitting in the landscape and painting.
You choose your view and make a painting out of it in your own way.
It's just that the artist with a camera is sitting in his studio using a photo as a reference, while the plein air painter is outside using the landscape as a reference (and is probably being bitten by ants if he's in an Australian landscape!).
As usually, painting bought not for it's own value, but for signature only. In my opinion, this painting has nothing to Turner's paintings like "Slave Ship" or "Light and Color". We can see very casual painting, I think it's done for submission - JMW just needed some extra cash...
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