William Turner - The Fighting Temeraire

lastby Alexandra Tuschka


A huge warship rises in the left part of the picture before a reddish, powerful sunset. The sun - on the right - stands against the moon, which has also already arrived, in the upper left. The latter is still pale and shy.

Turner was a painter of the industrial revolution, but also associated with romanticism and the motifs of nature. Watching the scrapping of the warship Téméraire from a steamship with his friend Woodington on September 6, 1838, he sketched the undertaking in his block and later works out this painting. The warship was prominent and probably a household name to contemporaries. It was the first steam-powered battleship with 98 guns in 1815 and was used as part of Horatio Nelson's fleet at the famous Battle of Trafalgar. Turner majestically sets the scene for the ship, which is here being pulled toward the viewer by a barge. The towing vessel is the first paddle steamer and was commissioned in 1783. Rotherhithe is the final berth of the Téméraire.


Here, Turner's interest in the natural spectacle of an impressive sunset is combined with the historical event, which to a certain extent is subordinated to it. As a result, many details of the ship suffer, which do not correspond exactly to the historical events, but reflect an individual impression. With his impasto, radiant and intense colors, Turner also influenced young Impressionists.


Although the work was exhibited in 1839, it was deliberately not offered for sale and was bequeathed to the state in the artist's will. It was voted Britain's greatest work in a 2005 BBC poll.


William Turner - The Fighting Temeraire

Oil on canvas, 1839, 90.7 x 121.6 cm, National Gallery in London