"The sun is God," the painter J.M.W. Turner said in 1851, just before he died. His paintings are drenched in light and it's hard to see how this exhibition could start with anyone else's work.
If you walk straight into the first of three galleries housing the traveling exhibition from Wales, Turner to Cezanne: Masterpieces from the Davies Collection, Turner's painting "The Storm" is what you encounter first. There are other Turners there, both oil and watercolor.
But this one hangs at an angle on one of the free-standing partitions in the center of the room, jutting a little into the space like a ship itself. Lit perfectly from above so that it's almost iridescent -- Turner seems to have caught the scene at the instant of a lightning flash -- the painting depicts a ship sprawling way too far on its side to ever recover, floundering, breaking up, amidst heaving swells, gale-whipped sea spray and, near the frame's edge, a bottomless dark green ocean.
Beginning with Turner as it does, the Everson Museum's new exhibition had me at hello. A few minutes beyond the Turners, though, Everson's director Steven Kern said that the Daumiers coming up were pretty good too. Downstairs at the press briefing, Kern had eschewed naming any personal favorites, and he had said right away about this clearly landmark exhibition, "I try to delicately side-step the notion of blockbuster."
"Broad appeal" is the phrase Kern prefers and if you spend a couple hours in these galleries you understand how come Kern expects in the neighborhood of 58,000 people from across the northeastern U.S. and southern Canada to visit Syracuse in the next three months. It's a project three years in the making, to bring these 53 paintings by 29 artists to Syracuse, one of only five venues on the tour -- not, as Kern said, Boston, New York City, San Francisco or Chicago, but Columbia, S.C., Oklahoma City, Syracuse, Washington, DC, and Albuquerque.