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This image shows the funeral of Turner’s old friend and colleague, the painter Sir David Wilkie. Wilkie had died on board ship while returning from the Middle East in 1841, and was buried at sea off Gibraltar.

With its dominant blackness, the image is presented as a profound meditation on the universal theme of death. However, it also includes a modern paddle steamer billowing smoke in the centre. Turner’s ability to bring together the contemporary and the apparently universal was one of his great strengths.

February 2004