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Turner made close observation of the ships shown here, but the painting of the battle in which Admiral Nelson died is not simply detailed reportage. Sails and cannon smoke arrest the eye, creating a claustrophobic backdrop, while the action appears to thrust outwards. The viewer is confronted by both the chaos of battle and the intimate tragedy of Nelson’s final moments. A contemporary reviewer termed this a ‘British epic picture...the first picture of the kind that has ever...been exhibited’.

February 2010