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Turner's first oil shown at the Royal Academy was a marine nocturne, shown in 1796. This night piece of the Thames, from a position near that of Tate Britain, belongs to the following year. Moonlight effects were a fashionable pictorial convention, mainly derived from Dutch seventeenth-century painters like Aert van der Neer then popular with British collectors. Here, however, the impression is of an uncontrived naturalism.

August 2004