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Joseph William Turner and The Fighting Temeraire

Joseph William Turner was an English artist who became popular during the romanticism period of the nineteenth century. He was most well-known for his English landscapes and creative marine paintings. Often he would add creative differences to a scene to give a stronger atmospheric presence. He especially enjoyed capturing the raw power and destructive nature of the sea. As part of the romanticism movement, Turner often chose colors and materials that looked best when freshly applied. Many of them have since faded over time. The landscapes and seascapes that have survived now hang on some of the most prestigious walls in the world.

Joseph William Turner - The Fighting Temeraire

The Fighting Temeraire, 1838

On display in the National Gallery in London, The Fighting Temeraire depicts one of the last ships from the Battle of Trafalgar as it was being towed in for the final time. Although the actual day was sunny, the artist chose a moody scene to match the significance of the ship’s farewell. Many believe the setting sun in the background is meant to signify the end of an era. Some artistic license was taken to show it in a less battered ship. Instead of showing the realistic image of the ship, it’s rising from the mist in a symbolic homage to the ship’s role in the Napoleanic wars. It was an attempt to pay tribute to what he saw as a deeply emotional and patriotic moment.

Some colors have faded from the sunset, but the powerful emotions evoked by this wonderful piece are still strong. In 2005 BBC radio held a contest and it was voted the nation’s favorite painting. The piece has also been seen in the movies, most notably the James Bond film Skyfall released in 2012. Most recently, it was added to the polymer 20-pound note in 2020. According to the Bank of England is the most secure banknote ever issued. The admiration for this beautiful piece of art is not going to be fading anytime soon.

About the Author

Amanda graduated from the University of Kansas, where she studied English literature and got a masters degree in library sciences. She enjoys reading, cooking and playing with her nephews. Her best friend is her little dog Brady.