The oil painting The Fighting Temeraire Tugged to her Last Berth to be Broken up was rendered by the English artist Joseph Mallord William Turner in 1839. One of the most important Romantic painters, Turner is best known for his mesmerizing marines, such as this one. This painting hangs in the National Gallery in London and in 2005 was voted “the nation’s favorite painting” in a survey developed by a radio show in the BBC Radio.
The canvas shows a navy sailboat being towed to Rotherhithe to be torn apart. This work has a nationalist aspect, for this is a ship used by the English in the Napoleonic Wars and was victorious in the battles in which it participated. The subject was one very personal to Turner. He never sold this painting and had no intentions of doing so. He called it “my Darling.”
The composition is full of small details that enrich the work. The moon, for example, on the upper left corner of the canvas. It could go unnoticed, wasn’t for the reflection Turner added to the sea, which extends to the bottom edge of the canvas.
The way Turner depicted the Temeraire ship shows the respect he had for it. In reality, the ship was in a much worst state as it was taken to be broken up to scrap. Here in The Fighting Temeraire, we see a beautiful, almost dream-like ship. Its colors seem unreal, in contrast to the landscape. The hues are clearer on it than in all other areas of the painting. To create an even more powerful aspect for the Temeraire, Turner painted the tugboat with very dark shades of brown.
The Romantic characteristic of depicting nature as Sublime can be seen in this work by Turner. The sky takes up two-thirds of the composition, and the color palette with which it was constructed is mesmerizing. The artist added a clear blue background of the ship to increase the contrast with the sky.
The sun, on the bottom right of the canvas, becomes the center of a swirling movement we can notice in the composition. The smoke that the steam-tugboat releases into the air also drifts in the direction of the sun, reinforcing this movement. Turner used shades of orange and yellow to create the sunbeams that extend from the sun to the upper right corner of the picture.
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