Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Departure of the Fleet

exhibited 1850

Not on display

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 899 × 1203 mm
frame: 1225 × 1530 × 143 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856

Display caption

This is one of four paintings exhibited by Turner 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 while it was hanging in the exhibition. 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?

Gallery label, July 2020

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Catalogue entry

432. [N00554] The Departure of the Fleet Exh. 1850


Canvas, 35 3/8 × 47 3/8 (89·5 × 120·5)

Coll. Turner Bequest 1856 (31, ‘The departure of the Fleet’ 4'0" × 3'0"); transferred to the Tate Gallery 1905.

Exh. R.A. 1850 (482); Arts Council tour 1952 (24).

Lit. Thornbury 1862, i, p. 349; 1877, p. 467; Hamerton 1879, pp. 297–8; Bell 1901, p. 160 no. 268; Armstrong 1902, p. 233; MacColl 1920, p. 26; Davies 1946, p. 186; Finberg 1961, pp. 427, 511 no. 589; Rothenstein and Butlin 1964, p. 73; Ziff 1964, pp. 24–7, pl. 3; Lindsay 19662, p. 52; Gage 1969, pp. 98, 187, 244 n. 105; Reynolds 1969, pp. 204–5; Wilton 1979, p. 223.

Exhibited in 1850 with the lines:

‘The orient moon shone on the departing fleet,
Nemesis invoked, the priest held the poisoned cup. ’

MS. Fallacies of Hope.

Dido and her attendants, on the left, watch the departure of the fleet. For contemporary press criticisms of this picture see No. 429 [N00553].

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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