The watercolor painting Mount Vesuvius in Eruption is believed to have been painted in 1817 by Joseph Mallord William Turner. The English artist was part of the Romanticism and, like his fellow artists from the movement, he had an enormous fascination for natural events, such as the one depicted here of a volcanic eruption.
William Turner is best known for his expressive brushstrokes with which he creates shapes that seem to dissolve, mixing themselves with the other elements in the composition. However, whenever Turner had a commission work to create, he would do it more conservatively. Here in this painting, we can clearly see the waves of the sea, the sailboat approaching shore and the volcano itself. Even though the sky area with the flying lava and smoke allowed Turner to work in a more expressive way, he sought to maintain the realism in the bottom part of the paper.
The publisher W. B. Cooke asked Turner to render the eruptions on the Mount Vesuvius in Italy in a series of watercolors. The artist’s interest for this type of natural phenomena had already resulted in a canvas depicting another volcanic eruption: The Eruption of the Soufriere Mountains in the Island of St. Vincent. However, it is believed that Turner did not get the chance to visit the Mount Vesuvius before he needed to deliver the commissioned works depicting it. Art historians tend to agree that the artist must have used the works depicting the Mount of James Hakewill as models.
The Vesuvius volcano is in the center of the picture. The lava expelled from it is a very bright yellow, which transmits well the impression of extremally high temperatures. Turner added a great mass of paint to the explosion area, creating small chunks of materiality. Some parts were scraped, removing the paint.
The color palette is mainly of reddish browns. Both upper corners are almost black, but the central area is taken by the bright lava. This creates a beautiful contrast of tones. In the foreground, on the left side, we can see a group of people running from the explosion. One of those human figures is parted from the group and stands against the reflection of the explosion on the waters of the sea. There is also a sharp contrast between these two shades of color of the person and the reflection.
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