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JMW Turner had a life-long obsession with the sea- from the tempestuous painting ‘Snowstorm’ to the fiercely dramatic pictures of whalers embattled by sea monsters. In this exhibition, Turner's position as Britain's greatest maritime painter is celebrated.
When Turner began painting, the subject of the sea had reached its greatest moment in British history. Sailing had been refined down to an art, trade was booming, and an empire was covering the globe. Whether the artist did in fact lash himself to the mast of the Ariel in order to record the gale that blew up after leaving Harwich docks is uncertain, yet what Turner found in the sea was a subject vast enough to fit the size of his own gifts.
This exhibition charts the changes in attitude to the sea through the paintings of Turner. From the heroic scenes painted during the Napoleonic wars to the beginning of Britain’s decline as a sea-faring nation, it encapsulates a time of great change in the history of Britain.
‘The Battle of Trafalgar, 21 October 1805’ was commissioned by George IV to commemorate England’s naval victory over the French. It is a highly symbolic painting about the cost of war, particularly in Turner’s depictions of the dying sailors and admirals who jostle indiscriminately for a position in the foreground.
Many of the events of the battle were conflated into the one scene, which Turner was later criticised for. Yet the message was clear- this may have been a glorious victory, but the suffering had been immense and had cost the nation more than the death of a great national hero.
What the critics say
“… The spectator will find themselves swept away”