Introduction On July 28, 1994, Shade and Darkness-The Evening of the Deluge and Light and Colour (Goethe's Theory)-The Morning of the Deluge-Moses Writing the Book of Genesis, by J.M.W. Turner, were stolen from the Kunsthalle in Frankfurt.The two paintings were on loan from the Tate in London. In front of the two new Turners that took their place at the Tate Britain, I asked curators, guards, and other staff members to describe the missing works. After secret negociations with the Yugoslav mafia, Shade and Darkness came back to London in July 2000, and Light and Colour around Christmas 2002 Text As I always say, a Turner is a Turner is a Turner. We've got so many. At the Tate, there's always been a room of late Turners and those two paintings had almost always been there. Biblical stuff, they had to do with the Deluge-the night before, the morning after; and it had stuff about Goethe in it. I remember the theme but I can't remember the pictures They were a pair. Full titles were Shade and Darkness-The Evening of the Deluge, and Light and Colour (Goethe's theory)- The Morning after the Deluge-Moses writing the Book of Genesis for its companion. So you've got long and complicated labels, in order to explain it I haven't forgotten those paintings. They still exist in the files. Shade and Darkness was no. 00531, Light and Colour was no. 00532. Thirty-one inches. Both painted with oil and resin, late in Turner's life, around 1843. Not signed. Stolen on Thursday, the 28th of July, 1994, at 10:12 p.m. from the Kunsthalle in Frankfurt. Twenty-four million pounds for the two of them Same octogonal canvas, same format, same kind of circular composition, like a vortex. One filled with golden ligh, the other sort of cloudy. That's as much as I can remember. I'm concerned with positions of things in the storage. They were both in the position C047, now occupied by their carrying frames. Empty ones I don't know what the work was actually about; my job is checking the basic factors. I have to be sure that the paint sticks to the ground, the ground to the canvas, the canvas to the stretcher, that frame can be hung simply, and those paintings were reasonably sound, neither of them needed specific attention. I was the last person to see them in England, because I escorted them on the conveyor belt, with lots of others, and they just looked like all the same Paintings that puzzle, not paintings that one admires. They left you bewildered as to what on earth Turner thought he was representing. There are much clearer ways of depicting a deluge, Moses writing the Book of Genesis doesn't grab me at all, and I found Goethe's theory difficult to understand. As a guide, I avoided mentioning it, and I always feared that somebody in the audience would say : 'Tell me exactly what you mean by that?' As I understand it, they were Turner's demonstration of Goethe's theory, like an exercise, and that's a reason why I didn't like them, I didn't want to have to grapple with anybody's theory of color in order to understand what's going on in a painting. Life is too short Completely crazy, extraordinary things. Very high-profile paintings. Unbelievably bold, single minded, strongly emotive. The light one was was bleeding colors. There is an ultramarine shade, chrome, orange, golden yellow in the heart, not much red, warm brown. Good colors to look at, pure colors -not mixtures-that you noticed more and more as you got closer. It becomes like an abstract painting. The Evening one was very anxious-making, disturbing, you were sucked into this sublime space; you lost your breath in this dark and indistinct terror. It was a succession of dark blues, purples and blacks. Those apparently represented sadness, tragedy, loss. A wonderful, swirling composition, which I think was his idea of man trapped in the vortex, sucked into his fate. And in the center this marvelous, blinding white Their interest was intellectual. They were painted by someone who understood the impact of technology but didn't have a very optimistic view of the outcome of civilization. It was about the inevitability of decline. I associated them with something tragic and extremely intelligent, but in a rather overcomplicated way Even for Turner, they were a bit messy. I guess they were supposed to express gloomier feelings in the one case and merrier ones in the other, but whichever way I looked at them, I saw gloom and doom. To me both were paintings of disaster and destruction. Very meditational, relatively optimistic pictures, with figurative elements absorbed into this abstract composition. Very satisfying visually Reddish, circular, varnish cracked like an eggshell. They seemed a bit contrived. Who knows what Turner intended to mean? He was interested in scientific discoveries, but worked with material that I don't think he comprehended completely. On the other hand, he read Goethe in translation and he may not have understood To a collector commenting that the painting he'd bought was indistinct, Turner was reputed to have said : 'Indistinctness is my fault.' It could almost be anything. You had to peer at them to see what was happening. What you saw was paint, arrangement of color; Shade and Darkness was somber: virginal black, dark gray, dark blue, brown, muddy white. Light and Colour had patches of strong red and intense yellow. One was quite sinister and could be described as disturbing; one was radiant, cheerful, alive In Light and Colour you've got in the center the very small figure of Moses, just indicated, not stunning, presumably sitting on a cloud, with a gown on, long hair, and, I think, reading. Below him, a snake-was it the brass serpent?-and, as if they're going into a whirlpool, masses of people, alive or dead, angels of some kind; it's not entirely clear. There are little bubbles, which are like heads close together, swept up in the vortex. The faces are ciphers; you can't read real expressions into them. He can't paint figures, and I can't forgive him for that In Shade and Darkness there is a flock of birds, wheeling up and away at the top of the vortex, menacing birds that pull you into nothingness. In the bottom-right corner, animals, presumably expiring, drowned, and on the left a couple asleep. I've never quite worked out whether they were Adam and Eve, or whether he meant them to be anyone. . . . It's quite light compared with the rest of the painting. the whole thing is one of great menace. If it was supposed to be making some kind of covenant with God to redeem us all, there wasn't much sign of it There is this great oddity of their relationship between being octogonal and being square. It is confusing: is it an octogonal painting or is it a square? Personnaly I think they are circular because one doesn't really look at the edges, they're such centralized pictures: they go in, they don't come out They were painted as octagons on square canvases. So you have the unfinished painting under the spandrel. As far as I recall, the original frames were kept, but the corners removed and it leaves these rather rough areas in the angles. That's always been an irritating thing, that they didn't look the way they were supposed to Although we've got so many Turners, they were unique, because they were a matching pair. Both in the room for late Turners. But I've never seen them side by side. I think Light and Colour was on the right, separated by a picture. . . might have been a snowstorm There's something else hanging there now. We first thought we should leave gaps when we rehung the Clore Gallery. But what would it mean, later on, if we close the gap up? We would almost be admitting that we are giving up. I don't erase names in old adress books I certainly had an affection for them but they have achieved a greater celebrity as stolen works. I quite like them in their absence. If you see the gallery as a not-perfectly-circumscribed system, it feels as if they are somehow in a special part of the collection. Maybe I want hese things to be free because the gallery is a prison of a kind, a zoo. And I don't mind because they're so powerful that they can always come back Because they were stolen together, people make a couple out of them. But they were already a couple, and I think it would be nicer for them to be together wherever they are. Meanwhile, the two Turners that fill up the space they had do just fine.