Five must-see Turners

  • 21 November 2013

Welsh castles, steam engines and a storm at sea – as Turner and the Sea opens at the National Maritime Museum, we choose the artist's greatest paintings to see in UK galleries.

1. Brighthelmston, Sussex, c. 1824
The Royal Pavilion, Brighton

Choppy seas lift a sailing boat in front of Brighton's newly erected Chain Pier in this lively watercolour, Turner's only painting to feature Brighton's iconic Royal Pavilion. Turner made several visits to the seaside resort in the 1820s, witnessing the town's development into a fashionable UK holiday destination. The painting was bought for the Pavilion last year with help from the Art Fund, and is currently starring in the exhibition Turner in Brighton

2. Rain, Steam, and Speed – The Great Western Railway, 1844
National Gallery, London

The Fighting Temeraire (currently on loan to the National Maritime Museum) might be the National Gallery's most famous Turner, but his most significant might be this late oil painting, a boldly impressionistic rendering of a steam train in a storm which had a profound influence on the art of Claude Monet. It was first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1844, and shows the Maidenhead railway bridge, which was completed in 1839 to Isambard Kingdom Brunel's designs.

3. Dolbadarn Castle, 1799–1800
National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth

Dolbadarn Castle, a 13th-century Welsh fortress overlooking the lake of Llyn Padarn in the Llanberis Pass, has been a favourite subject of British artists since the 18th-century painter Richard Wilson captured it in one of his landscapes. This, the first of Turner's paintings of the castle, was created during the artist's studies for his diploma at the Royal Academy, and is currently on show as part of the Welsh Landscapes exhibition at the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth.

4. The Eruption of the Soufrière Mountains in the Island of St Vincent, 1815
Victoria Gallery & Museum, Liverpool

This spectacular oil painting shows the moment when the Caribbean volcano La Soufrière erupted, as imagined by Turner, who had read reports about the disaster with great interest. Like many of his contemporaries, Turner was preoccupied with the Romantic notion of the 'sublime' – to him, the power and scale of the eruption represented a supreme example of nature's magnificence and beauty.

5. Norham Castle, Sunrise, c. 1845
Tate Britain, London

This dreamlike landscape was painted nearly 50 years after Turner first saw Norham, one of the most northern points he reached on a 1797 visit to the north of England. In its palette and composition the painting is similar to his 1842 painting the Blue Rigi – which was bought for the Tate Collection with help from the Art Fund in 2007 – but with more of the indistinctness which characterises Turner's mature style; the castle is barely recognisable, looming as a dark mass glimpsed through the morning fog.


Turner and the Sea is at the National Maritime Museum, London until 21 April 2014.

Tags: What to seeMuseums and galleriesGreat days out