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Although the Battle of Waterloo (1815) marked Britain’s defeat of France after long years of war (1793-1815), Turner’s painting is by no means a simple celebration of victory. Dead bodies are strewn across the foreground, while survivors search for their loved ones, the whole scene shrouded in darkness. Despite the title, one contemporary reviewer called it ‘an allegorical representation’ rather than the ‘delineation of a particular battle’. The image represents the universal reality of war – loss and suffering – rather than the fleeting glory of victory.

October 2013