The oil painting Moonlight, a Study at Millbank was made by the English artist Joseph Mallord William Turner in 1797. The style used by the artist on this canvas resembles the one of the Dutch painter Aert Van Der Neer, which was famous for his renderings of nocturne landscapes during the 17th century. This particular canvas is one of the first paintings that Turner did with this subject.
In the following years, Turner would paint this type of marine landscape several times, usually with a more two-dimensional finish to it, with visible brushstrokes and a light treatment typical of the Romanticism. The Romantics usually depicted nature as something exuberant. Paradisiac landscapes were the rule, and the sun or moonlight would usually create an almost magic atmosphere in the paintings. Some examples of Turner’s works with this style are Keelmen Heaving in Coals by Night, painted in 1835 and Buttermere Lake, Cumberland, a Shower, from 1798.
This canvas shows a full moon shining over the River Thames. Workers can be seen both in the boats, on the right side of the picture, as on the shore, on the left. In the distance, the city skyline can be seen with a considerable amount of details. The moon stands not far from it. Next to the bright yellow ball in the sky, we can see another bright spot. A star shines a little higher, to the right of the moon.
The reflection of the light on the waters of the river is very subtle. The color palette does not present many variations and is formed by a range of browns. The shades of color are all very similar. This is a peculiar style for Turner, especially when taking into consideration that this was not a commissioned work. In the works that were made for a specific buyer, it was more common to find a natural style in Turner’s painting.
Willian Turner painted throughout his life, and even though he did it professionally, there were a series of works which he rendered only for his own pleasure and would not sell them. The Fighting Temeraire Tugged to her Last Berth to be Broken up, made in 1939 is an example of such works. He only lent this canvas once for an exhibition but regretted it afterword.
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