The Fighting Temeraire

Artist’s name:  Joseph Mallord William Turner, 1775 – 1851

Title of work: The Fighting Temeraire tugged to her last berth to be broken up, 1838

Dimensions:  90.7 x 121.6 cm   Medium: Oil painting on canvas

Date:  1839     Genre:  Marine art Location: National Gallery, London

Contrast: Dramatically strong. Shipping old and new, or sail and steam.

Lines in this artwork: Flowing sky, delicate river reflections,

Colours are: Bold, vibrant and warm earthy. 

Tones in this artwork: Contrasting and very dramatic.


The full title of the painting is “The Fighting Temeraire tugged to her last Berth to be broken up, 1838”, but it is often referred to as “The Fighting Temeraire”.
The focus of the painting is the HMS Temeraire, a 98-gun ship of the Royal Navy remembered for its influential role in the Battle of Trafalgar, having saved the flag ship HMS Victory from the enemy during the battle.
The painting depicts the final journey of the Temeraire, as the ship is towed by a paddle-wheel steam tug from Sheerness in Kent along the river Thames to Rotherhithe in south-east London, where it was to be scrapped. It is unlikely that Turner witnessed the Temeraire being towed – he may not even have been in England at the time – although he could have previously seen the ship when travelling past Sheerness on his way to Margate.
The painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy, London in 1839, a year after it was created. Accompanying it was an excerpt from a poem by Thomas Campbell named “Ye Mariners of England”:
“The flag which braved the battle and the breeze,
no longer owns her.”
The painting was the favourite artwork of Turner, who refused to sell it during his lifetime. He left the painting to the nation following his death.

Read my book about William Turner which features The Fighting Temeraire

Category: Art critique
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