James Mallord William Turner was prodigiously gifted, with a highly prolific output, an unending passion for art, and the unerring desire to keep challenging himself. For all his talent though, he always seemed happiest when capturing the British seas. Therefore, the chance to see his phenomenal nautical work up close at the Turner and the Sea was one I was never going to let pass.
Greenwich, East London, is filled with maritime history, and it’s also famous for giving its name to the Greenwich Meridian (longitude) and GMT (Greenwich Mean Time). The National Maritime Museum is the perfect place to host an exhibition of JMW Tutner’s work, as well as other notable maritime artists of the time.
I’m familiar with quite a bit of his work, but standing right in front of his paintings you are reminded just how extraordinary his talent was. Also included are work by other artists, including romantic British painter John Constable, Willem van de Velde, Thomas Gainsborough and Claude-Joseph Vernet. But as good as their paintings are, they highlight just what made Turner so memorable, and just why he has left such a legacy.
Fishermen at Sea was Turner’s first oil painting to be exhibited at the Royal Academy. Just 21 years old at the time, it’s a phenomenal piece of art, majestically capturing the erratic waves, the luminous moon and the fishermen between them. It’s long been my favourite work of his.
Other highlights that detail the dangerous waves include Snow Storm – Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth, Now for the Painter and The Shipwreck. Turner also appreciates the beauty in calmer seas. The ones that stand out most to me with that aspect are Rockets and Blue Lights, Keelmen Heaving in Coals by Midnight and The Battle of Trafalgar.
But the exhibition wouldn’t have been the same without The Fighting Temeraire. Voted as the most popular painting in Britain in 2005, it is the perfect combination of modernity and tradition that Turner placed so much value in. The HMS Temeraire had played a leading role in Britain winning the Napoleoanic war, and was about to be broken up for scrap. Turner paints it being dragged by a small tug boat, with the symbolsim of being able to go forward but thanks to the glory of the past. The visual metaphor of a glorious sun setting in the background is a beautifully spectacular touch.
Turner and the Sea is open until 21 April 2014. It’s £10 for a regular ticket but there are different concessions. If you have the chance, you should definitely see it. Beauty is timeless, and with art it dates even less.