The Art of the Sublime

Joseph Mallord William Turner Fishermen at Sea exhibited 1796

Joseph Mallord William Turner 'Fishermen at Sea' exhibited 1796
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Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Fishermen at Sea exhibited 1796
Oil paint on canvas
support: 914 x 1222 mm; frame: 1120 x 1425 x 105 mm
Purchased 1972
Tate T01585
The first oil painting Turner exhibited at the Royal Academy, this is a moonlit scene in the tradition of Horace Vernet, Philip de Loutherbourg and Joseph Wright of Derby. These painters were largely responsible for fuelling the eighteenth-century vogue for nocturnal subjects. The sense of the overwhelming power of nature is a key theme of the sublime. The potency of the moonlight contrasts with the delicate vulnerability of the flickering lantern, emphasising nature’s power over mankind and the fishermen’s fate in particular. The jagged silhouettes on the left are the treacherous rocks called ‘the Needles’ off the Isle of Wight.

How to cite

Joseph Mallord William Turner, Fishermen at Sea exhibited 1796, in Nigel Llewellyn and Christine Riding (eds.), The Art of the Sublime, January 2013,, accessed 06 July 2015.