Room 2 in Turner Collection

JMW Turner

The Decline of the Carthaginian Empire ...

Joseph Mallord William Turner, The Decline of the Carthaginian Empire ...  exhibited 1817

17th century French painter Claude Lorrain (known as Claude) was Turner’s favourite ‘Old Master’ painter. Turner adopted Claude’s style of painting in many paintings at this time. It is one of a pair of paintings showing the rise and fall of the Carthaginian Empire in North Africa. Carthage was the most powerful empire before the rise of ancient Rome. Its decline is symbolised by the setting sun. Turner saw the rise and fall of once-great empires as inevitable.
The other half of the pair, Dido building Carthage, or the Rise of the Carthaginian Empire, hangs, at Turner’s request, in the National Gallery alongside a painting by Claude.

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Self-Portrait

Joseph Mallord William Turner, Self-Portrait  c.1799

Turner painted this self-portrait in around 1799 when he was 24 years old. He possibly intended to mark his election as an Associate of the Royal Academy. This was an important moment in his career. It meant he could exhibit his works in the Academy without fear of rejection by any members of the committee. Despite his young age, Turner had already made a name for himself as an original, accomplished painter with great technical skill.
This self-portrait features on the £20 note issued by the Bank of England in March 2020.

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The Angel Standing in the Sun

Joseph Mallord William Turner, The Angel Standing in the Sun  exhibited 1846

This painting, from late in Turner’s career, shows scenes from the Old Testament, the first section of the Bible. In In the centre, Archangel Michael appears with his flaming sword. In the foreground are scenes of murder and betrayal. Adam and Eve cry over the body of their son Abel (left), murdered by his brother, and Judith stands over the headless body of Holofernes (right), who she has decapitated.
Turner's pessimistic picture seems to show death is everywhere. It has been suggested this reflects his concern about how his own life and art would be judged. In a message to his critics, he exhibited the picture with the words, 'the feast of vultures when the day is done.'

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Regulus

Joseph Mallord William Turner, Regulus  1828, reworked 1837

Regulus was a Roman general who was captured by the Carthaginians. They sent him back to Rome to negotiate the release of Carthaginian prisoners. When he returned to Carthage having failed his mission, he was tortured by being left out in the sun with his eyelids sewn open. The dazzling light in the centre of this work dramatically illustrates Regulus’ cruel punishment.
Turner first exhibited this painting in Rome in 1828. His audience there would have recognised it as a seaport from a work by the 17th-century painter, Claude Lorrain displayed in the Uffizzi gallery in Florence. It appears that Turner wanted to show himself as part of a tradition of landscape painting started by Claude.

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The Goddess of Discord Choosing the Apple of Contention in the Garden of the Hesperides

Joseph Mallord William Turner, The Goddess of Discord Choosing the Apple of Contention in the Garden of the Hesperides  exhibited 1806

In ancient Greek mythology, the Garden of the Hesperides was situated on the slopes of Mount Atlas, where a tree of golden apples grew. The daughters of Hesperus, the evening star, took care of the tree. It was watched over by a dragon that never slept. Turner shows the garden as a peaceful landscape in a protected valley. The goddess of Discord, in disguise, takes one of the apples. This small act began the events that led to the Trojan War.

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Aeneas and the Sibyl, Lake Avernus

Joseph Mallord William Turner, Aeneas and the Sibyl, Lake Avernus  c.1798

This work is probably Turner’s first attempt at an oil painting of a mythological subject, set in a ‘classical’ landscape. This is a stylised background, painted to evoke the landscape of ancient Greece or Rome. The story comes from the Aeneid, by the Roman poet Virgil. The Trojan military leader Aeneas wants to visit the Underworld in order to consult the ghost of his father. He meets the Cumaean Sibyl (a priestess at Cumae, a Greek colony near Naples, Italy). She agrees to guide him through the kingdom of the dead. The deep lake, surrounded by dark woods, was believed to lead to the Underworld.
Turner based the Italian setting of this painting, with its view of Lake Avernus, on a drawing by his patron, Sir Richard Colt Hoare.

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Mercury Sent to Admonish Aeneas

Joseph Mallord William Turner, Mercury Sent to Admonish Aeneas  exhibited 1850

This is the first of four pictures by Turner telling the story of Aeneas by the Roman poet Virgil. They were the last works Turner exhibited at the Royal Academy. Only three survive. They are his final paintings in the ‘classic’ style of 17th-century French painter Claude Lorrain.
It is difficult to identify the figures. Trojan hero Aeneas stands on the left in his ‘Tyrian’ purple cloak. With him stands Cupid, the Roman god of love. The god Mercury, with his wand and winged feet may not be present, although part of the title. Perhaps he has already flown away, after delivering a message to Aeneas, as Virgil's story describes.

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Undine Giving the Ring to Massaniello, Fisherman of Naples

Joseph Mallord William Turner, Undine Giving the Ring to Massaniello, Fisherman of Naples  exhibited 1846

In this painting, Turner illustrates a scene from ‘Undine’, a fairy tale by German writer Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué, published in 1811. Undine, a water spirit, was born without a soul, but she can gain one by marrying Huldebrand, a knight. The otherworldly light and dreamlike figures reflect the nature of the story. It was very popular throughout the 19th century and inspired many writers, including Hans Christian Andersen.

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The Departure of the Fleet

Joseph Mallord William Turner, The Departure of the Fleet  exhibited 1850

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?

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Van Tromp Returning after the Battle off the Dogger Bank

Joseph Mallord William Turner, Van Tromp Returning after the Battle off the Dogger Bank  exhibited 1833

The tradition of Dutch sea paintings was an important influence on Turner’s seascapes (known as ‘marine’ paintings). In the early 1830s Turner made a series of paintings inspired by 17th-century painters such as Willem Van de Velde, who took subjects from naval history. Turner may have been making a topical reference to the 1831 Belgian Revolution. This resulted in Belgium becoming an independent country from the Netherlands.

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Fishing Boats Bringing a Disabled Ship into Port Ruysdael

Joseph Mallord William Turner, Fishing Boats Bringing a Disabled Ship into Port Ruysdael  exhibited 1844

By the time Turner painted this work, in the 1840s, he often finished his exhibited pictures with few details. The last marks he added to this painting seem to have been the outlines added to the blocks of white that make up the distant sails. Turner makes a reference to the Dutch 17th-century artist Jacob van Ruisdael in the name he gives his imaginary port. Turner first encountered the work of the artist during his visit to the Louvre in Paris in 1802.

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Art in this room

The Decline of the Carthaginian Empire ...
Joseph Mallord William Turner The Decline of the Carthaginian Empire ... exhibited 1817
Self-Portrait
Joseph Mallord William Turner Self-Portrait c.1799
The Angel Standing in the Sun
Joseph Mallord William Turner The Angel Standing in the Sun exhibited 1846
Regulus
Joseph Mallord William Turner Regulus 1828, reworked 1837
The Goddess of Discord Choosing the Apple of Contention in the Garden of the Hesperides
Joseph Mallord William Turner The Goddess of Discord Choosing the Apple of Contention in the Garden of the Hesperides exhibited 1806
Aeneas and the Sibyl, Lake Avernus
Joseph Mallord William Turner Aeneas and the Sibyl, Lake Avernus c.1798

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