Unfinished Turner / Unfinished Turn

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Abstract / Impressionism / Inspiration / Landscape / Photo Log / Photography / Seascapes

June 14, 2011, the Tate Britain, London. If I had to pick one favorite artist, it would be J.M.W. Turner. I think of his work as the bridge between Romanticism and Impressionism and in my opinion he often outdid both. I find his later work, especially, to be transcendent.

Norham Castle, Sunrise c.1845 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851

Joseph Mallord William Turner
Norham Castle, Sunrise

In June 2011, my wife, nephew, and I went to Europe to visit family, surf (one of us), hike, and absorb culture. The first stop was London and among the many museums we visited were both Tates. In the Tate Modern I bathed in Rothko. In the Tate Britain I basked in Turner.

Of course we saw all the famous Turners — which tend toward the Romantic — and while my eyes absorbed the glow, another sense was denied: it took tremendous willpower to resist touching the almost mystical brushwork. I was reverent. Motionless. But a bit of a draft caught my attention.

I followed it to a small gallery off to the side and there was the most memorable treasure of all: a generous selection of unfinished works whose swirling, twisting, billowing, multi-colored motion did things to time and space that can only be shown; never spoken. My nephew and I were the only two in the room. We sat in silence as the brushstrokes became vanes that seemed to move the air around us. But there was not a sound.


My wife captured the moment.

It seemed sacrilegious to photograph the strokes close-up, but I had to see and preserve them for later study of how he did it — so I did make a few clicks. Folly. I’m not Turner. Never will be. But I can admire.

norham castle sunrise detail

Norham Castle, Sunrise — Detail

September 6, 2018, McKinney Bay, Lake Tahoe. The post-sunset alpenglow was a perfect opportunity to shoot some intentional-camera-movement abstracts. Many were shot; few were chosen. Most were shot with a full 180-degree turn, but on this one I stopped halfway. An unfinished turn. A streak of light from the marina next door followed the sweep, providing a just a bit of counterpoint.


I was reminded of Turner and wondered what he would have done with a camera.

(Museum shots: Canon S95. Tahoe shot: Nikon D850; Tamron SP 24-70mm f/2.8 Di VC USD G2.)

The Author

California based fine-art photographer featuring abstract, impressionist, and minimalist seascapes — near and distant — and floral-based images. Fine-art photography can be seen at www.amagaphoto.com All original images on this blog are copyright 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021 Michael Scandling. All rights reserved. No images on this site may be copied, duplicated, reused, published, or re-purposed in any way without express permission from the copyright owner, Michael Scandling.


  1. Frank Riemer says

    Thanks Michael. Great story. Love the shot of you and your nephew in the Tate. Nice abstract photo too.


  2. How exciting that must have been! Your description of feeling that waft of air drawing you into the quiet room of unfinished paintings…oh boy! I didn’t know there was a whole room of them. I’ve never been to the Tate but I love Turner too, for the same reasons you do, and would have bathed in that experience…and bathed in Rothko as well. 🙂 Then your Lake Tahoe photograph, which is beautiful. I’ve experimented with ICM too, and it’s always hit or miss….in this one the light is so three dimensional. I never tried 360 degrees, sounds like fun. 🙂 This is a beautiful post, thank you.


    • Thank you very much. My feeling is that if you’re going to write, it’s worth the effort to craft it into something truly enjoyable to read. Same with photography. You obviously understand that very well. By the way, I learned alpenglow in the Alps—the best place to learn it.


      • I actually had a debate with a woman I used to write with – she thought that her blog postings weren’t “important enough” to be seen as serious writing, which also meant she didn’t think they needed serious effort. For what it’s worth, she no longer writes a blog. But anyway, I appreciate good writing, and your blog is filled with it.

        I think I learned aplenglow from reading…something. Obviously the right thing for me to do is visit the Alps for a refresher course.


  3. There are also the Southern Alps on the South Island of New Zealand. There’s a definite glow there too. There’s a blog post coming up today or tomorrow on that very subject.


  4. Pingback: J.M.W.Turner – AMAGA Photography Blog

  5. …”We sat in silence as the brushstrokes became vanes that seemed to move the air around us.” Oh, how I can relate to those words, my friend!
    I’m so glad you shared this post in light of his birthday, as I hadn’t seen it.
    Now I go back to your tribute post [4-2020] 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Simply wonderful. Our trip to London this spring had to be postponed, but when we go next year, your enthusiasm will guide us to Rothko and Turner.

    Liked by 1 person

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