Everson winding up Turner to Cézanne

Nancy Keefe Rhodes 12/08/09More articles
Joseph Mallord William Turner, The Storm, c. 1840-45, oil on canvas, 12 3/4 x 21 1/8 in. National Museum Wales; Miss Margaret Davies Bequest, 1963 (NMWA 509). Courtesy American Federation of Arts and Everson Museum.
Last of film series screens this Sunday; Show is up until Jan. 3

“We’re in the home stretch now,” said Everson Museum director Steven Kern good-naturedly on his way into the Hosmer Auditorium last Sunday afternoon. “So no more lolly-gagging!”

Kern had just walked downstairs from the Everson’s museum shop, across the spacious lobby and by the massive signature curling staircase, all crowded with visitors for the touring exhibition Turner to Cézanne: Masterpieces from the Davies Collection, National Museum Wales – also dubbed A Brush with Greatness. This exhibition was already scheduled when Kern first arrived in Syracuse, but he has embraced it as his own. His evident pleasure and enthusiasm has not dimmed since the opening two and half months ago, and the museum – supported by a host of spin-off events in other arts venues – has offered a steady stream of special talks, films and activities.

Last Sunday Kern gave a talk on the art collecting scene both here and abroad that rescued the work of Impressionists until a time they could be appreciated. The Davies exhibition, which is touring U.S. cities during renovation of the National Museum Wales, is the result of what Kern calls the “visionary” decision of two Welsh sisters – the spinster coal heiresses Gwendolyn and Margaret Davies of Cardiff – to focus their art collection on Impressionist paintings that would in turn launch a national museum that would make these and other world-class works of art accessible for the Welsh people.

Kern discussed the Davies collection in the context of similar wealthy collectors during the years 1880 to 1930 and beyond – Samuel Courtauld of London, Mr. and Mrs. Potter Palmer of Chicago, Durand-Ruel in Boston, Sterling and Francine Clark of New York City, Albert Barnes of Philadelphia – and the differing climates for innovation in art in France, with its rigid classical tradition, the U.K. and the comparatively free-wheeling and newly prosperous U.S. Much of the impulse of this collecting – like the choice of cities for the current U.S. tour – sprang from the conviction that people living in the hinterlands should have access to art where they live.

The exhibition itself literally begins with the English painter J.M.W. Turner and his stunning painting The Storm, and the Everson’s film series also ends next Sunday with The Sun is God, a 63-minute documentary that dramatizes Turner’s life. Starring Leo McKern as the mature Turner,
the film takes us from Turner’s father’s barbershop in the slums of Covent Garden through his apprenticeship as an artist, his mother’s insanity, his walking tour of Yorkshire and northern England and early obsession with the sea, to his two affairs with married women, to his long friendship with the critic John Ruskin. He left to Ruskin the task to cataloguing and explaining his work, and in large part the film is framed by Ruskin’s commitment to defending Turner’s work in the face of hostile rejection by the art establishment despite periods of great commercial success.

Turner left over 19,000 paintings and drawings and wanted them kept and exhibited together, free to the public. Neither wish was fulfilled. The film’s title comes from Turner’s last words before his death.

This article appears in the 12/10/09 print edition of the Syracuse City Eagle on page 1. See “The Sun is God” on Sunday, December 13 at 2:00 PM in the Hosmer Auditorium at the Everson Museum, 401Harrison St. at the corner of South State. Admission is free with a ticket to the “Turner to Cézanne” exhibition, which is on view through January 3rd. The Everson is open Tuesday – Sunday with evening hours to 9:00 PM on Thursday and Fridays. Visit for complete details. Nancy covers the arts. Reach her at

TAGS: Nancy Keefe Rhodes,Everson Museum,Steven Kern, Hosmer Auditorium,National Museum Wales,Turner to Cézanne: Masterpieces from the Davies Collection,The Sun is God,film Everson,The Storm, Everson’s film series, a 63-minute documentary,critic John Ruskin,Leo McKern, JMW Turner
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