Monday, 9 March 2009
The Fighting Temeraire,painted by William Turner in 1838
To my mind this is one of the best uses of light by a painter ever.
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.
The painting hangs in the National Gallery, London, having been bequeathed to the nation by the artist in 1851.
When Turner came to paint this picture he was at the height of his career, having exhibited at the Royal Academy, London, for 40 years. He was renowned for his highly atmospheric paintings in which he explored the subjects of the weather, the sea and the effects of light. He spent much of his life near the River Thames estuary and did many paintings of ships and waterside scenes, both in watercolour and in oils.
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.
Voted The Greatest Painting in Britain
The 98-gun ship 'Temeraire' played a distinguished role in Nelson's victory at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, after which she was known as the 'Fighting Temeraire'. The ship remained in service until 1838 when she was decommissioned and towed from Sheerness to Rotherhithe to be broken up.
The painting was thought to represent the decline of Britain's naval power. The 'Temeraire' is shown travelling east, away from the sunset, even though Rotherhithe is west of Sheerness, but Turner's main concern was to evoke a sense of loss, rather than to give an exact recording of the event. The spectacularly colourful setting of the sun draws a parallel with the passing of the old warship. By contrast the new steam-powered tug is smaller and more prosaic.
Turner was in his sixties when he painted 'The Fighting Temeraire'. It shows his mastery of painting techniques to suggest sea and sky. Paint laid on thickly is used to render the sun's rays striking the clouds. By contrast, the ship's rigging is meticulously painted