Wednesday, April 23, 2014

T is for Turner

Joseph Mallord William Turner was a British painter, known as the painter of light.  He lived from 1775-1851.  He produced what historian Simon Schama called "The greatest British painting of the 19th century".  If you don't like heavy stuff, I'd suggest you move on just about now. The painting Schama was referring to is "The Slave Ship", abbreviated from it's original name "Slavers Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying - Typhoon Coming On", which represents a very real event that occurred in 1781.  Off of the coast of Jamaica, the slave ship Zong was running short of supplies and had slaves dying at an alarming rate  The human cargo was insured, but only for losses at sea and not for dead on arrival.  Approximately 140 Africans were thrown overboard, murdered in cold blood so the ships owners could claim compensation for the lost slaves.

The Slave Ship, 1840

This next painting (A Disaster at Sea) represents another shameful historical event.  The Amphitrite, a ship carrying prisoners headed for Australia (108 women and 12 children), was grounded near Boulogne, France, by a gale, and started breaking apart.  The French offered rescue assistance, but the captain declined because there were prisoners on-board.  133 lives were lost.

A Disaster at Sea

In my opinion, Turner's work embodies the essence of art.  He produced stunning images, and if one chooses to look closer, those images have a powerful message.  These next two are a couple of my personal favorite Turner paintings.

Death on a Pale Horse, 1825-1830

Dawn After the Wreck, 1841

Copyright Information.  All images are used with permission, are in the public domain, or constitute fair use policy in accordance with educational purposes


  1. I'd not heard of this artist before but I really like the pics you featured, despite the tragic nature of them.

  2. Oh he has been one of my favourite artists since I was6 or 7 yrs old-not kidding! His use of light and paint was so ahead of his time. i was fortunate to see a retrospective of his work at the Toronto Art Gallery-It is one of my highlights

  3. I'd not seen any of those works by Turner before although I am familiar with some of his other paintings. He certainly didn't seem to shy away from potentially controversial subjects.


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