Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851): Fishermen at

Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851): Fishermen at

4/7/2021, 5:00:16 PM
Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851): Fishermen at Sea(detail) , 1796, oil on canvas, 91 x 122 cm, Tate Britain, London Joseph Mallord William Turner is one of the greatest and most original of all landscape painters. He took classical genres and scenes - the stately landscape in well-designed compositions and historical events writ large - and infused them with a new dynamic in painting. He reflected on the increasing importance of individual experience in the era of the Enlightenment, where the perceptions of human beings led to exalted personal moments and sublime interactions with nature. Through this dedication to rendering heightened states of consciousness and being, he helped define the cross-disciplinary artistic movement of Romanticism, setting the stage for later developments in painting subjective experiences that would lead to Impressionism. In some of his later works especially, Turner responded to the arrival of the modern era by making the contraptions of human invention powerfully, sometimes threateningly present. Present work is the first oil painting Turner exhibited at the Royal Academy, this is a moonlit scene in the tradition of Horace Vernet, Philip de Loutherbourg and Joseph Wright of Derby. These painters were largely responsible for fuelling the 18th-century vogue for nocturnal subjects. The sense of the overwhelming power of nature is a key theme of the Sublime. The potency of the moonlight contrasts with the delicate vulnerability of the flickering lantern, emphasising nature’s power over mankind and the fishermen’s fate in particular. The jagged silhouettes on the left are the treacherous rocks called ‘the Needles’ off the Isle of Wight. A contemporary account describes the work in terms that fit the Tate Gallery picture: ‘As a sea-piece this picture is effective. But the light on the sea is too far extended. The colouring is, however, natural and masterly; and the figures, by not being more distinct and determined, suit the obscure perception of the objects, dimly seen through the gloom of night, partially illumined.’ (Tate)

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