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Windsor Castle and Eton College (to the right) rise across the Thames Valley, although Turner only mentioned Slough in his original title. Given the conditions of national self-sufficiency imposed by the Napoleonic Wars, the painting has been seen as a celebration of progressive agriculture in an Arcadian English setting, beneath the benign gaze of ‘Farmer’ George III. Details such as the nursing mother, the overseer with his back to us, the men attending to a broken plough and the woman bent double to grub up the turnip roots suggest a more difficult reality, and Turner’s sympathy for the participants.

February 2010