Joseph Mallord William Turner
The Shipwreck exhibited 1805

Artwork details

The Shipwreck
Date Exhibited 1805
Medium Oil paint on canvas
Dimensions Support: 1705 x 2416 mm
frame: 2085 x 2795 x 235 mm
Acquisition Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856

Display caption

Shipwrecks and other disasters at sea were a recurrent theme in Romantic painting. They demonstrated the primal force of the elements, a nightmare for all who travelled far from home. Turner retained a lifelong passion for the sea. We don’t know whether this painting was inspired by an actual shipwreck, or the reissue in 1804 of a famous poem on the theme by William Falconer. Turner defines the essence of such an experience through overwhelming impressions of realism and horror. The dark tonality, characteristic of Turner’s early paintings, provides a foil to the white crests and swirls of the waves.

March 2010

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