J.M.W. Turner, Watercolor of a Venice Sunrise
A personal note:
I debated long and hard about whether or not to post this image. Turner painted many watercolors, and there is nothing about this particular watercolor that is exceptional. Yet, this is an incredibly emotional image for me to look at, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to include it in my blog because of that fact. It remains in my Turner file of images because I once urgently needed a sunrise scene of Venice to send to someone important. That’s where the story begins.
Earlier this year I was briefly involved (for lack of a better term) with someone at my college. We had a shared love of Turner, among other things. As can often happen when two people are first getting to know each other, we seemed to find a lot of shared connections and energy in deep conversation—and what wonderful conversations they were! After going out one Friday evening for coffee, we found ourselves staying up and talking all the way through the night. We’d gone to a lovely spot on campus, down behind the art museum and sat in a gazebo that’s perched on a stunningly beautiful lake. When the dawn came, there was a spectacular sunrise. Quite honestly, I think Turner himself would have painted the scene if he had seen it. As the sun slowly rose and the colors changed, I decided it was one of the most perfect and deeply romantic moments of my life. It was made even more brilliant by the fact that I had someone to share it with—someone who was also moved the by the beauty and immediacy of the moment.
Later that morning, after I had returned home, I had a message from my sunrise companion thanking me for sharing that special time together. It was a beautifully written message, simple in its elegance, and very heartfelt. Feeling inadequate in my own ability to respond to such a graceful example of writing, I found this watercolor of Turner’s and sent it in reply.
Of course, things didn’t work out between us. I don’t know why… Not really. It was one of those connections that went from making perfect sense to making no sense at all. Sometimes I see my sunrise companion around campus. We don’t speak. There’s often an unhappy look and that makes me sad. Soon we’ll be going our separate ways for good. I suppose that’s okay… After all, life goes ever on. But every time I see this simple, uncomplicated Turner watercolor, I’ll think of that wonderful morning and that sunrise by the lake. And I’ll think of my sunrise companion. And those memories will be terribly bittersweet… But never regretful.
Update: My best friend, gentle and caring analytic philosopher that he is, read this today and promptly started to “take the piss” right out of me, declaring: “My God, this is so saccharine! I actually need to go to the hospital to get treated for an overdose of sweetness. Though, seriously, I think I would feel bad for you… Except for the fact that I know how crazy you really are.” In that moment, I understood what it means to have a sibling. A sibling is, after all, someone you simultaneously respect for their refusal to bullshit you, and yet want to strangle for their inability to project even an inkling of charity. Nevertheless, it did the trick—I was laughing hysterically by time he’d finished with his commentary. So yeah, perhaps I have some editing to do?