The Fighting Téméraire" (1839)
The Fighting Téméraire tugged to her last Berth to be demolished)
Oil on canvas, 91cm x 122cm (36in x 48in)
National Gallery, London
J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851) - "Painter of Light", his work is regarded as a
'Romantic Preface' to Impressionism.
This painting depicts one of the ship which played a distinguished role in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 - the 98-gun ship HMS Temeraire - tugged to her final berth to be demolished in east London in 1838.
When William Turner painted this picture in 1839, he was already very famous - having exhibited at the Royal Academy in London for 40 years. He was well-known for his highly atmospheric paintings in which he explored the subjects of the weather, the sea and the effects of light. He spent much of his life near the River Thames estuary and did many paintings of ships and waterside scenes, both in watercolour and in oils.
Turner frequently made small sketches and then worked them into finished paintings in the studio. He was present when this ship was towed and made some sketches of it.
This picture is very important as it has interesting symbolic meanings. In it, the most significant object, that is the old warship, is positioned well to the left of the painting, where it rises in great splendour and has got almost ghostlike colours. The beauty of this old ship is in stark contrast to the dirty blackened tugboat with its tall smokestack.
On the opposite side of the painting to Temeraire, and exactly the same distance from the frame as the ship's main mast, the sun sets above the estuary, its rays extending into the clouds above it, and across the surface of the water. The flaming red of the clouds is reflected in the river. It exactly repeats the colour of the smoke which pours from the funnel of the tugboat. The sun setting symbolises the end of an epoch in British Naval history. Behind 'Temeraire', a gleaming sliver of the waxing moon casts a silvery beam across the ocean, symbolising the commencement of the new, industrial era.The demise of heroic strength is the subject of the painting, and it has been suggested that the ship stands for the artist himself, with an accomplished and glorious past but now contemplating his mortality.
Turner called the work his "darling", which may have been due to its beauty, or his identification with the subject.