Musings for September 2020

                                Face Value

It came as a surprise to find that I had a work of art in my purse which I looked at most days. I am talking about the new £20.00 note issued by The Bank of England on the 20th February 2020.


              Image: Denise West

This is new in so many ways. The note is printed on polymer which is a thin flexible plastic material and you can feel the tactile features of the raised print. It has an ultra - violet light and the colour quality is much improved. There are foil patches and holograms but it is the back of the note where my interest lies.

Adam Smith has been replaced by a self-portrait circa 1799 of Joseph Mallord William Turner with his celebrated canvas of The Fighting Temeraire, and he is the first artist to be used on a bank note. Turner was chosen by a panel of judges, beating Charlie Chaplin, William Hogarth, Samuel Wedgewood and Barbara Hepworth. Worthies indeed, but it shows the affection the British public hold for this National Treasure.

His image of the Fighting Temeraire painted in 1839 pays tribute to the ship's heroic past. The 98 gun ship played a significant role in the Battle of Trafalgar and is being towed up the Thames by a more modern paddle-wheel steamer tug towards its final berth in Rotherhithe to be broken up for scrap. The glorious sunset is a fanfare of colour in her honour and it can also be seen as a symbol of the end of an era, with the sun setting on the days of elegant, tall-masted warships. His picture was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1839 and has been a nation's favourite ever since.

The bank note is a collage to his life. There is another of his great pictures in one of the windows. It is Tintern Abbey, a watercolour sketch and very much in the Romantic style. It was painted on a tour of South Wales he undertook in 1792 and it was a popular tourist spot and the image would reveal political, emotional associations the ruin had for people at that time.


There is also a metallic image of Margate Lighthouse in gold foil. Margate meant a lot to Turner. He visited it often as a boy where he stayed with his uncle, a local butcher but continued to revisit throughout his life to paint " the loveliest skies in all Europe ". In later years he would travel regularly to stay with Captain Booth and his wife. Turner and Mrs. Booth became lifelong companions, he even took her name whilst living there, and eventually moved her to London in 1847 until his death four years later. There is a shell statue on Margate front of Mrs. Booth by Ann Carrington - she's looking out to sea - perhaps for Turner to return. The site of Mrs. Booth's former lodging house is now occupied by the Turner Contemporary Gallery.


Image: Denise West

The signature of Turner on the bank note is the one used to sign his will, and there is also his famous quote " light is therefore colour " which he said at an 1818 lecture when referring to his techniques.


Retiring Bank of England Governor Mark Carney said the move to use Turner was an example of his contribution to society as one of the most influential British artists of all time.

I am so pleased that Britain's creative side is being honoured in this way and I am especially happy because it's Turner. The new bank note is a remarkable tribute and having been designed by a woman is the icing on the cake.

Denise West
September 2020


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