This post looks at Turner from the perspective of what I’ve described as the trance state. I’ve posted on this in a small way, but I think it’s easier to explore it by concentrating on a single artist. It’s the deep creative state that applies to all artists, not just painters, but composers and writers as well.
Now this description is long (from E.V. Rippingille, who didn’t like or approve of Turner) but it’s a perfect description of an artist in a trance state.
Turner…was there and at work at his picture before I came, having set-to at the earliest hour allowed. Indeed it was quite necessary to make the best of his time, as the picture when sent in was a mere dab of several colors, and ‘without form and void’, like chaos before the creation. The managers knew that a picture would be sent there, and would not have hesitated, knowing to whom it belonged, to have received and hung up a bare canvas, than which this was but little better. Such a magician, performing his incantations in public, was an object of interest and attraction. Etty was working by his side… and sometimes speaking to someone near him, after the approved manner of painters; but not so Turner; …he never ceased to work or even once looked or turned from the wall on which his picture hung. All lookers-on were amused by the figure Turner exhibited in himself, and the process he was pursuing with his picture. A small box of colors, a few very small brushes, and a vial or two, were at his feet, very inconveniently placed; but his short figure, stooping, enabled him to reach what he wanted very readily. Leaning forward and sideways over to the right, the left-hand metal button of his blue coat rose six inches higher than the right, and his head buried in his shoulders and held down, he presented an aspect curious to all beholders, who whispered their remarks to each other, and quietly laughed to themselves. In one part of the mysterious proceedings Turner, who worked almost entirely with his palette knife, was observed to be rolling and spreading a lump of half-transparent stuff over his picture, the size of a finger in length and thickness. As Calcott was looking on I ventured to say to him, ‘What is he plastering his picture with?’ to which inquiry it was replied ‘I should be sorry to be the man to ask him….’ Presently the work was finished: Turner gathered his tools together, put them into and shut up the box, and then, with his face still turned to the wall, and at the same distance from it, went sidling off, without speaking a word to anybody, and when he came to staircase, in the centre of the room, hurried down as fast as he could. All looked with a half-wondering smile, and Maclise, who stood near, remarked, ‘There, that’s masterly, he does not stop to look at his work; he knows it’s done, and he is off.