"Turner Monet Twombly", at Tate Liverpool.  

"Turner Monet Twombly", at Tate Liverpool, is an intriguingly peculiar affair. Following not-so-hot on the heels of "Turner Whistler Monet", Tate Britain’s blockbuster show of 2005, this new exhibition extends the comparative scope of its predecessor by leaping forward from the nineteenth to the late twentieth century – and indeed beyond, all the way into the twenty-first. Cy Twombly died just a year ago and at first sight his inclusion looks like a deliberate provocation. The links between Turner and Monet are well documented: Monet admired Turner deeply, and spent much of his creative life developing insights derived from the work of his English forerunner. But why has an American painter, working so much later, been elevated into their august company? While Twombly was a considerable painter, he was hardly a titan of world art. A sceptic might conclude that the whole enterprise is little more than a misguided attempt to piggyback him to an undeserved eminence, on the backs of two artists far greater than he ever was.

The exhibition turns out to be more thought-provoking than expected, given such suspicions. It is most sensibly regarded as a controlled experiment, first exploring the connections between Turner and Monet, then examining how a much later artist has coped with the predicament of working with their inheritance. Seen in that light, Twombly appears as an interesting test case, a paradigm for the anxiety of influence.

The one irritating aspect of the show is the predominant choice of white for the galleries. This means that many of the most radiant images, Turner’s skies and Monet’s studies of water, recede into the wall rather than shine forth from it: in the few rooms where a darker colour has been chosen the contrast is painfully obvious. The paintings...

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