Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851): Sun Rising

4/11/2021, 4:58:17 PM
Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851): Sun Rising through Vapour, 1807, oil on canvas, 134.5 x 179 cm, National Gallery, London As a study of a calm, smooth sea, this picture was a departure from the wild storms of Turner’s previous marine paintings. It is low tide in the early morning and fishermen unload their catch from a boat beached high and dry on the shore. Some people enjoy a meal. Others prepare the catch for sale. This human activity contrasts with the stillness of the glassy sea which, like a mirror, reflects the hazy sunlight. The pale yellow sun is not yet hot enough to burn off the sea mist – the ‘vapour’ referred to in the picture’s title – which gives the large warships in the background an almost ghostly aura. Instead of combining dramatic action with a dynamic handling of paint, Turner used rich colours, here, laid down as finely painted surfaces to create a tranquil, even slightly elegiac, mood. This ability to paint the sea in contrasting states further consolidated his reputation as primarily a ‘great sea-painter’. The emphatic focus on the sun as the source of light is a feature of several of Turner’s compositions, but here he also adds incidental details such as the objects on the beach, including an anchor, driftwood and stranded marine life. Turner himself had great affection for this painting. It was bought by Sir John Leicester, one of his major patrons, but when Sir John’s estate was sold at auction upon his death in 1827 Turner bought it back for a higher price. In his second will, made in 1831, Turner specified that the picture, together with his 'Dido building Carthage', should hang ‘in perpetuity’ in the newly built National Gallery. (National Gallery)

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