The oil painting Keelmen Heaving in Coals by Night is a work by the English artist Joseph Mallord William Turner, and it was finished in 1835. It depicts the River Tyne at night, where men work to put the extracted coal into the sailboats.
The way Turner rendered the night sky gives the composition a swirling movement, which is something frequently found in his canvases. The moon is the center of the vortex that forms. The glow of the moon was taken to an extreme, and it lightens the whole sky. The vanishing point of the composition was placed under the moon, in the brightest area of the canvas, which increases the swirling movement of the scene.
As a Romantic painter, Turner’s approach to nature was of exaltation. This becomes apparent in the central role of the moon and its light. The boats and constructions take a small area of the canvas. On the right side, there are the boats which are being laden. We can see a human figure against the light of the torches from the boats. On the left portion of the painting, there are some insinuations of buildings, probably industries. Their silhouette mix with the distant boats, for their hues, are the same.
There is a contrast in the style Turner used to paint the foreground and the sky. In the first, he used a realistic one, whereas, in the second, the materiality of the paint is extremely apparent. This way of painting without the concern to hide the two-dimentionality of the canvas was not usual for the paintings of the Romanticism. However, this was one of the main characteristics of the art movement that followed. The Impressionists left the brushstrokes apparent and embraced the flatness of the support.
William Turner is famous for his innovative painting style. In his lifetime he got many positive and negative critiques. His most common subject was of marine landscapes. He also made several sunsets, which were a result of his fascination for such natural phenomena.
Turner came from a simple family. His father was a barber and, when Turner was ten years old, he sent his son to live with an uncle, for Turner’s mother had become mentally ill and couldn’t take care of the child anymore. While living there, William made several sketches of landscapes and the city. Later he would get into the Royal Academy of artists when he was only fourteen years old.
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