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This painting is the culmination of Turner’s studies of Devon, which he visited in 1811 and 1813. His watercolours and drawings of the area were remarkably fresh and informal. Here, however, he creates a more monumental and self-consciously artful image in the mould of the seventeenth-century classical landscape painter, Claude Lorrain. Even so, contemporaries recognised that the scene was intended to show a particular place: the Tamar valley.

This painting was exhibited in the year of the battle of Waterloo. It would have been hard to avoid the patriotic subtext of such a grandly ambitious depiction of the national landscape.

September 2004