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J.M.W Turner: Painting Set Free

Wind, Waves and Whaling

Turner’s lifelong fascination with the sea intensified in his final years. He transformed traditional seascapes into what appear as theatrical sets for human action and dramatic effect. When Turner looked at the sea, he thought of immensity, mortality, futility, beauty and power.

The artist astounded viewers with his bold portrayals of modern maritime life – for example, whales and their hunters battling for survival. He also strove to capture nature’s elemental, destructive forces. After a terrible storm at sea, Turner recounted: “I got the sailors to lash me to the mast to observe it; I was lashed for four hours, and I did not expect to escape, but I felt bound to record it if I did.”

Snow Storm - Steam-Boat off a Harbour's Mouth

Snow Storm – Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth, Exhibited 1842, Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851, Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856. Photography © Tate, London 2015

Snow Storm is one of Turner’s most celebrated works. Here, the artist fuses his unmatched powers of observation with radical new thoughts about composition and paint application. The work pits the latest human technological achievement – steam power – against the uncontrollable forces of nature. It is a terrifying battle, played out amid a swirling vortex of wild seas and winds. According to legend, Turner observed the tumult firsthand: at sea in stormy weather, he asked sailors to tie him to the ship’s mast.

Organised by Tate Britain in association with the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and the J. Paul Getty Museum

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