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The first oil painting Turner exhibited at the Royal Academy, this is a moonlit scene in the tradition of Horace Vernet, Philip de Loutherbourg and Joseph Wright of Derby. These painters were largely responsible for fuelling the 18th-century vogue for nocturnal subjects. The sense of the overwhelming power of nature is a key theme of the Sublime. The potency of the moonlight contrasts with the delicate vulnerability of the flickering lantern, emphasising nature’s power over mankind and the fishermen’s fate in particular. The jagged silhouettes on the left are the treacherous rocks called ‘the Needles’ off the Isle of Wight.

July 2010