Friday, 1 May 2009
Joseph Mallord William Turner - The Fighting Temeraire tugged to her last Berth to be broken up
Joseph Mallord William Turner RA (23 April 1775 – 19 December 1851) was an English Romantic landscape painter, watercolourist and printmaker, whose style is said to have laid the foundation for Impressionism. Turner was considered a controversial figure in his day, but is now regarded as the artist who elevated landscape painting to an eminence rivalling history painting. Although renowned for his oil paintings, Turner is also one of the greatest masters of British watercolour landscape painting. He is commonly known as "the painter of light".
The Fighting Temeraire tugged to her last Berth to be broken up is an oil painting executed in 1838 by the English artist J. M. W. Turner (c.1775–1851).
It depicts one of the last second-rate ships of the line which played a distinguished role in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, the 98-gun ship HMS Temeraire, being towed towards its final berth in East London in 1838 to be broken up for scrap.
Turner frequently made small sketches and then worked them into finished paintings in the studio. He was present when this ship was towed and made some sketches of it. However, he appears to have used some license in the finished painting, which has taken on symbolic meaning.
The composition of this painting is unusual in that the most significant object, the old warship, is positioned well to the left of the painting, where it rises in stately splendour and almost ghostlike colours against a triangle of blue sky and rising mist that throws it into relief. The beauty of the old ship is in stark contrast to the dirty blackened tugboat with its tall smokestack, which scurries across the still surface of the river "like a water beetle".
Turner has used the triangle of blue to frame a second triangle of masted ships, which progressively decrease in size as they become more distant. Temeraire and tugboat have passed a small river craft with its gaff-rigged sail barely catching a breeze. Beyond this a square-rigger drifts, with every bit of sail extended. Another small craft shows as a patch of white further down the river. In the far distance, beyond the second tugboat which makes its way towards them, a three-masted ship rides at anchor.
On the opposite side of the painting to Temeraire, and exactly the same distance from the frame as the ship's main mast, the sun sets above the estuary, its rays extending into the clouds above it, and across the surface of the water. The flaming red of the clouds is reflected in the river. It exactly repeats the colour of the smoke which pours from the funnel of the tugboat. The sun setting symbolises the end of an epoch in British Naval history. (Venning, 2003)
Behind Temeraire, a gleaming sliver of the waxing moon casts a silvery beam across the ocean, symbolising the commencement of the new, industrial era.
National Gallery microsite for J M W Turner
David Hockney on J M W Turner by AA Gill
John Ruskin on "Old Téméraire"