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The Departure of the Fleet is one of four paintings exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1850. A visitor to Turner’s studio stated that the artist ‘went from one to the other, first painting upon one, touching on the next and so on, in rotation’.

The artist finished the canvas on the walls of the RA, and curators and conservators have tried to determine which areas Turner might have adjusted at the final moment. This question is made difficult by changes in surface appearance over time. Could the three areas of red paint highlighted in this illustration have been added on Varnishing Day?

February 2010