SALEM — It was over dinner in midtown Manhattan a few years ago that the prospect first arose of the Peabody Essex Museum hosting “Turner & the Sea.”
The setting was Brasserie Ruhlmann, a French restaurant in Rockefeller Plaza. The dinner companions were Dan Finamore, PEM’s Russell W. Knight Curator of Maritime Art and History, and Kevin Fewster, director of the Royal Museums Greenwich.
Fewster, an old friend of Finamore, was in this country arranging for loans of Turner paintings from American museums for an exhibition that would take four years to assemble, an exhibition that just ended its run at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, England, and will open here May 31.
“We get together whenever we can,” Finamore said. “We always have a lot to talk about.”
And that night was no exception. The National Maritime Museum was assembling what Fewster has called “the first major exhibition to examine (Joseph Mallord William) Turner’s lifelong engagement with the art of the sea.”
When it opens here in two weeks, it will be the largest U.S. exhibition of the maritime paintings of J.M.W. Turner, a man generally regarded as the greatest marine artist of the 19th century.
For PEM, this is a major coup. “Turner & the Sea” is making only one stop outside of London — and that stop is here.
“When (Fewster) brought up this show, at that point, he was thinking there would be two venues — two places in the U.S. could take this show,” Finamore said. “But it turned out the lenders won’t allow the paintings out that long, so we became the only U.S. venue.”
Finamore was clear that PEM wanted the exhibit.
‘I’m usually very careful to commit us to anything because I don’t have that power,” he said, “but in this case, it seemed obvious I had every reason to be very clear about our interest.”