Moonlight (after Turner)
July 11, 2012
We watched and greatly enjoyed this programme recently on BBC 4 about Turner’s Thames. It left me with two distinct impressions: that I had to read a biography of Turner and that I really wanted a copy of Moonlight on my wall.
I am doubly lucky in this instance in having a dad that paints very beautifully in oils and loves Turner with a passion. I am trebly lucky even, as he’s expressed interest recently in wanting to copy more paintings as an enjoyable exercise (he copied The Fighting Temeraire recently). So, I made my request.
I had never seen this painting before, (which surprises me as it was introduced as his very first known oil) and my dad has never seen it in the flesh, so in selecting a suitable reference image we had to apply a bit of judgement in sorting out the available material. We didn’t have a good copy of it in a book, so we had to rely on what we could find on the internet. The painting is in the collection of The Tate, so this was a good place to start, but the darks in their image are hopelessly lost (the first image below) so we looked elsewhere. Here’s an example of the diversity of colours, contrast values and aspect ratios that a Google Image search brings up.
Needless to say we chose as carefully as we could, but as we didn’t have a picture of the painting as it truly is in our minds, our choice came down to as much our own value judgements as the image’s perfect fidelity.
I won’t post the actual reference image we chose, mostly because I don’t now know which one it was, but also because there were one or two changes made for the copy. The main one was that we chose a standard size canvas, because that was what we had and also because swept frames only come in standard sizes. Therefore the aspect ratio was similar to the lower left image, although the actual painting is more like the lower-central one; this one also represents the colours we chose too. Another problem were the stars: close examination of these images reveals sometimes a very starry sky, sometimes a wholly cloud-covered one. There are also often white specks in the lower half of the image so many of these can be thought of as damage or some photographic artefact(?). We decided to ignore all star-like objects except the central one, which I am sure appears on the original and must be a planet (not Venus we realised, it being so close to a full moon, so we refer to it as Jupiter).
And so work commenced. The canvas already had the outline of a picture on it that my sister had started and abandoned, but don’t let that put you off.
The painting took only a few hours to complete (my dad is very experienced) and I was able to take it home with me a week later. Here are the main stages as they appeared in the evenings when I got back from work:
After this picture was taken he added a sort of vignette and touched a few things up. It seems a little too bluey to me, so I will give it a few washes of yellowy varnish until I feel completely satisfied. It has had one coat of varnish, but I forgot to take the tub home with me so have to wait until I get it back before I can add any more. It is however, already up on my wall and I really enjoy looking at it, especially in the evening when the yellowy lights really dull the blues to perfection. Perhaps it’s just appropriate that it should look at its best in the evening, perhaps I’ll end up leaving it just as it is :-)