landscape

Copycats, Copycats

Helvoetsluys (1832) by JMW Turner, at Tate Britain

Helvoetsluys (1832), to which Turner added a red daub at the last minute, rivalling the vibrancy of Constable’s nextdoor painting. Photograph: Tokyo Fuji Art Museum Collection

Yesterday on Nathan Branford’s blog (written by an agent, this is a wildly popular blog for writers — struggling ones, mostly, and of which I share a very common bond) he asked the question “Should writers read? and if so, how much?” This led one blogger to write in “I don’t read much, because it gives me fodder for copying everyone else’s ideas.”

Interesting. I’ve thought about this before. Though an argument could be made that if you read Keats, Bronte, and Dan Brown that you’ll know your competition and you will be able to steer clear of it.

Not so with the wild landscape artist Turner, according to the UK’s Guardian:

Turner copied landscapes by Claude Lorrain, stealing his veiled Italian suns and bleached Italian light – even when he transposed them to a view of Devon. He borrowed a road from Poussin, took windmills and the glow of nocturnal fires from Rembrandt; he mirrored a whole seascape by Willem Van de Velde the Younger, shared storms at sea with Jacob van Ruisdael (though they lived almost a century apart), and painted bigger natural catastrophes in the Alps than Philip James de Loutherbourg. Turner was fearless, even when he failed in his emulations of Titian.

Did he think no one would notice? Or perhaps only the “experts” would? I surely didn’t know this until I was cruising through the Tate’s online blog this morning. Because of his brilliance and the fact that he was a better painter than those he imitated, does this mean we can just divert our glance?

This reminds me of a “Project Runway” show where one of the top three was accused by the editor at Elle for ripping off designs from famous designers. Ultimately, she didn’t win. But maybe that’s because she wasn’t famous yet.

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