Turner And Paintings Of The Sea At The National Maritime Museum

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 59 months ago
Turner And Paintings Of The Sea At The National Maritime Museum
The Battle of Trafalgar, 21 October 1805
by JMW Turner, 1823–24, oil on canvas
© National Maritime Museum (Greenwich Hospital Collection)
The Battle of Trafalgar, 21 October 1805 by JMW Turner, 1823–24, oil on canvas © National Maritime Museum (Greenwich Hospital Collection)
Calais Pier, with French Poissards Preparing for Sea: An English Packet arriving
by JMW Turner, oil on canvas, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1803
© The National Gallery, London
Calais Pier, with French Poissards Preparing for Sea: An English Packet arriving by JMW Turner, oil on canvas, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1803 © The National Gallery, London
Rockets and Blue Lights (close at Hand) to warn Steam-Boats of Shoal-Water
by JMW Turner, 1840, oil on canvas
© Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, USA (photo by Michael Agee)
Rockets and Blue Lights (close at Hand) to warn Steam-Boats of Shoal-Water by JMW Turner, 1840, oil on canvas © Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, USA (photo by Michael Agee)
The Fighting Temeraire, tugged to her last Berth to be broken up, 1838
by JMW Turner, 1839, oil on canvas
© The National Gallery, London
The Fighting Temeraire, tugged to her last Berth to be broken up, 1838 by JMW Turner, 1839, oil on canvas © The National Gallery, London
Keelmen heaving in Coal by Moonlight
by JMW Turner, 1835, oil on canvas
© National Gallery of Art, Washington
Keelmen heaving in Coal by Moonlight by JMW Turner, 1835, oil on canvas © National Gallery of Art, Washington
Whalers (also known as The Whale Ship) by JMW Turner, 1845, oil on canvas
© Metropolitan Museum of Art
Whalers (also known as The Whale Ship) by JMW Turner, 1845, oil on canvas © Metropolitan Museum of Art

JMW Turner is arguably Britain's greatest artist. Consequently, there seems to be an exhibition featuring his works almost every year. This sets an obvious challenge for museums and galleries: how to ensure they present an aspect of Turner's work that hasn't been seen before.

The National Maritime Museum is the latest venue to take a turn at Turner, and they've fittingly focussed on his paintings of the sea. The exhibition opens with three spectacular images of ships upon stormy waters, and doesn't let up from there on in. The detail of the breaking waves and the romantic lighting in his nocturnes are all classic Turner and he has perfectly captured the anguished look plastered on the faces of sailors as their boat is torn apart by the raging waters.

Works by other artists are on show.  Although technically excellent, their works look like still frames compared with Turner's, whose canvases feel as if they're still in motion. In one space, Turner's superiority is displayed by many different depictions of the Battle of Trafalgar, his interpretation is easily the most evocative.

There is a slight lull through watercolours and preparatory works but then the show picks up again with his  later, more abstract works. A steamboat caught in a storm appears engulfed by the water and spray while a whale hunt lacks detail but is easily recognisable by the black form of the beast and the scarlet jets of blood.

The biggest testament to this exhibition is that arguably Turner's finest work, The Fighting Temeraire, doesn't stand out here because it's surrounded by equal masterpieces. This is a fantastic exhibition of paintings that showcases both Turner's range and talent.

Turner and the Sea is on at National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, SE10 9NF until 21 April. Tickets are £9 for adults, concessions available.

Last Updated 27 November 2013