Dort or Dordrecht The Dort Packet-Boat from Rotterdam Becalmed - JMW Turner - At center
At center, "Dort or Dordrecht: The Dort Packet-Boat from Rotterdam Becalmed" (1818) by J.M.W. Turner (1775–1851) hangs at the Yale Center for British Art, 2016; photo: Richard Caspole

From the Fine Art Connoisseur November / December 2023 Editor’s Note:

Although Fine Art Connoisseur always likes to grapple with big ideas, this issue of the magazine has gone more meta than expected. Inside you will find two pieces about artists’ relationships with other artists. The first is a portfolio richly illustrated with contemporary works in which the artist depicts another artist, and the second (authored by Rose Fredrick) is an article highlighting nine artists who collect works by other living artists. Fine Art Connoisseur magazine NovDec23

It is only natural that many artists note what their colleagues are doing — even what they look like — and so these sections remind us that the works we admire do not fall from the sky fully formed. Rather, they are made by people of real flesh and blood.

Equally meta was my recent visit to New Haven, Connecticut, a city I know well thanks to frequent pilgrimages to the Yale Center for British Art. This is America’s largest collection of art from the United Kingdom, established in 1966 by the collector Paul Mellon (1907–1999). I can’t count the times I have gaped there at J.M.W. Turner’s massive painting from 1818, “Dort or Dordrecht: The Dort Packet-Boat from Rotterdam Becalmed.” The title is off-putting, but rest assured the picture simply shows a cargo ship being provisioned in a Dutch port.

Anyway, the photo above shows this masterwork as I have seen it countless times at the Center, flooded with natural light and set against a wall covered in natural linen. The airy building was designed by the architect Louis Kahn (1901–1974); it was actually his final project and did not open until 1977, three years after his death.

This landmark is currently closed for a conservation project, and therefore highlights of the Center’s collection have been on view this year directly across Chapel Street at the Yale University Art Gallery. Opened in 1953, that marvelous building was also designed by Kahn as his first art museum. The temporary installation, “In a New Light: Paintings from the Yale Center for British Art,” features a selection of more than 50 works, offering visitors (like me) an opportunity to see some old friends in a fresh way.

At right, "Dort or Dordrecht" hangs in "In a New Light: Paintings from the Yale Center for British Art" at the Yale University Art Gallery, 2023; photo: Jessica Smolinski
At right, “Dort or Dordrecht” hangs in “In a New Light: Paintings from the Yale Center for British Art” at the Yale University Art Gallery, 2023; photo: Jessica Smolinski

This summer I saw Turner’s masterpiece in a room with lower ceilings, artificially lit and mounted on a deep blue wall. I’m a color aficionado, so I prefer the darker background and hope we’ll see it again when the Yale Center for British Art reopens. (“In a New Light” closes on December 3, 2023, so hurry if you want to catch it.)

My reason for mentioning this: isn’t it wonderful that something we think we know can make a different impact when seen “in a new light”? I salute the professionals at Yale on their rehang, and I encourage everyone to look again at our beloved art. What if we reframe it, move it to another room, fidget with its lighting, or lend it to a child setting up their first home? How will it appear then? How will it affect us? Will it mean something different? Nothing may change, or perhaps everything will.

What are your thoughts? Share your letter to the Editor below in the comments.

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  1. changing the walls and display are one thing… but do you know what I enjoyed most??? seeing the paintings in space so I can see scale… with the internet… all images appear to be the same size, you lose the quality of the real life experience… I dislike that part… you get the true experience in person.

  2. The wall colour makes a great difference, the low ceiling makes the picture look so much larger. Not sure how I feel about false lighting vs natural light though. As a artist I try to paint with as much natural light as possible and use daylight bulbs when more light is required, which is frequent here in the uk. Thanks for sharing.


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