Joseph Mallord William Turner

Second Sketch for ‘The Battle of Trafalgar’


Not on display

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 902 × 1213 mm
frame: 1228 × 1536 × 138 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856

Display caption

This sketch for the Battle of Trafalgar shows Turner attempting to animate the composition. A sky filled with cloud and smoke bears down upon the sea, where figures and waves create dramatic diagonals. Turner enhanced this sense of frantic motion in the final version, by turning the ship slightly towards the viewer and filling its sails with wind. A calmer image of pomp and ceremony may have been more to King George IV’s taste, as he later had the finished painting removed to Greenwich.

Gallery label, February 2010

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Catalogue entry

251. [N00556] Second Sketch for ‘The Battle of Trafalgar’ c. 1822–3


Canvas, 35 1/2 × 47 3/4 (90 × 121)

Coll. Turner Bequest 1856 (15, ‘Battle of Trafalgar’ 4'0" × 3' 0"); transferred to the Tate Gallery 1931.

Exh. Australian tour 1960 (6); on loan to the National Maritime Museum 1975–84.

Lit. Thornbury 1862, i, p. 349; 1877, p. 467; Armstrong 1902, p. 233; Davies 1946, p. 185.

The second oil sketch for the large picture begun in 1823 for George IV, No. 252. For differences between this and the first sketch see No. 250.[N05480] In the final picture the group of figures in the foreground is changed, though the general massing is the same. The Victory is twisted very slightly to emphasise the fact that it is approaching the spectator and the sails, particularly in the centre, are again altered. The other ships are also different, and in particular that on the right, seen stern on in both sketches, is now shown at an angle.

Published in:
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984

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