Sunday, 1 February 2009


“Moonlight is sculpture.” - Nathaniel Hawthorne

Art Sunday today is devoted to an early, unrepresentative work of a great British artist, William Turner (1775–1851). This is his “Fishermen at Sea” of 1796 (Oil on canvas. Tate Gallery, London, UK). Turner is better known for his later works with their rich and ethereal swathes of colour and brilliant light. This painting is quite the opposite – a night scene illuminated by the full moon, which is reflected by a stormy sea in which a couple of fishing boats are battling the waves.

Turner captures the romantic spirit admirably, and the “sturm und drang” which is implicit in the term “romanticism” is exemplified by this work. It is a not great painting by any means, and it could be mistaken for any one painted by his talented contemporaries who specialised in such gothic visions. However, I like it and it is not infrequently that the trite and commonplace touches us in ways that high art may fail to do so.

Turner was only fourteen years old when he was admitted to the Royal Academy Schools. He started his career by painting watercolours and producing mezzotints under the strong influence of John Robert Cozen's work. Then, in 1796, he launched into oil painting, working in the neoclassical manner of Richard Wilson and Nicolas with results that found wide acclaim. He exhibited his first picture Fishermen at Sea (1796) in the Royal Academy exhibition in 1796. He was elected an Associate in 1799 and in 1802 a full member of the Royal Academy. Turner was one of the most prolific painters of his time. He traveled extensively in England, Scotland and Ireland, and also on the Continent (France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Italy).

What do you make of this painting? I’m curious to know.


  1. The Landscape paintings by Turner are very beautiful and challenging, too--to understand fully.

    Naval Langa