#FineArtFriday: Fishermen at Sea by J. M. W. Turner 1796

Joseph_Mallord_William_Turner_-_Fishermen_at_Sea_-_Google_Art_ProjectArtist: J. M. W. Turner (1775–1851)

Title: Fishermen at Sea

Genre: marine art

Depicted place: The Needles, off the Isle of Wight

Date: 1796

Medium: oil on canvas

Dimensions: Height: 914 mm (35.98 in); Width: 1,222 mm (48.11 in)

What I love about this painting:

I love seascapes, in all their many forms. This particular painting is dark in many ways beyond the obvious. It is a night scene, and it tells us a story of the dangers that fishermen face. Fish don’t care about the weather and some fish can only be caught at night.

If you must go out in the stormy dark, sometimes the catch is death.

We see an event unfolding by moonlight, observed by three seagulls sailing on the wind. Two boats, one a small vessel and the other a larger boat, tossing upon the rough sea, both with their sails furled. This tells us they fear being driven onto the rocks known as the Needles.

A line has been cast toward the larger boat, but no one is tending it. Nearly all the art scholars say it is a fishing line, but it seems rather stout for a fishing line, and there is only one line in the water although two ships are braving the storm. Waves threaten to wash everything overboard on both boats.

I’m a storyteller; to my imagination this scene looks less like a fishing expedition and more like a rescue, as if the rope has been cast toward the other vessel to bring it close.

This is the beauty of great art. It inspires the imagination to think beyond the obvious, to look outside the accepted view and to find new ways of looking at things.

The warm glow of lantern in the stern of the smaller boat casts little light and is the only warmth in this scene. The moon has emerged from behind the clouds and illuminates the action.

Whether this is merely a rough night of fishing or a rescue at sea, this a powerful moment of fear and bravery.

About this painting via Wikipedia:

Fishermen at Sea, sometimes known as the Cholmeley Sea Piece, is an early oil painting by English artist J. M. W. Turner. It was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1796 and has been owned by the Tate Gallery since 1972. The painting measures 36 by 48.125 inches (91.44 cm × 122.24 cm). It was the first painting by Turner to be exhibited at the Royal Academy. It was praised by contemporary critics and founded Turner’s reputation, as both an oil painter and a painter of maritime scenes. Art historian Andrew Wilton has commented that the image: “Is a summary of all that had been said about the sea by the artists of the 18th century.”

The painting depicts a moonlit view of fishermen on rough seas near the Needles, of the Isle of Wight. It juxtaposes the fragility of human life, represented by the small boat with its flickering lamp, and the sublime power of nature, represented by the dark clouded sky, the wide sea, and the threatening rocks in the background. The cold light of the Moon at night contrasts with the warmer glow of the fishermen’s lantern. [1]

About the Artist, via Wikipedia:

Joseph Mallord William Turner RA (23 April 1775 – 19 December 1851), known in his time as William Turner,[a] was an English Romantic painter, printmaker and watercolourist. He is known for his expressive colourisations, imaginative landscapes and turbulent, often violent marine paintings. He left behind more than 550 oil paintings, 2,000 watercolours, and 30,000 works on paper. He was championed by the leading English art critic John Ruskin from 1840, and is today regarded as having elevated landscape painting to an eminence rivalling history painting.

Turner was born in Maiden Lane, Covent Garden, London, to a modest lower-middle-class family. He lived in London all his life, retaining his Cockney accent and assiduously avoiding the trappings of success and fame. A child prodigy, Turner studied at the Royal Academy of Arts from 1789, enrolling when he was 14, and exhibited his first work there at 15. During this period, he also served as an architectural draftsman. He earned a steady income from commissions and sales, which due to his troubled, contrary nature, were often begrudgingly accepted. He opened his own gallery in 1804 and became professor of perspective at the academy in 1807, where he lectured until 1828. He travelled to Europe from 1802, typically returning with voluminous sketchbooks.

Intensely private, eccentric and reclusive, Turner was a controversial figure throughout his career. He did not marry, but fathered two daughters, Eveline (1801–1874) and Georgiana (1811–1843), by his housekeeper Sarah Danby. He became more pessimistic and morose as he got older, especially after the death of his father, after which his outlook deteriorated, his gallery fell into disrepair and neglect, and his art intensified. In 1841, Turner rowed a boat into the Thames so he could not be counted as present at any property in that year’s census. He lived in squalor and poor health from 1845, and died in London in 1851 aged 76. Turner is buried in Saint Paul’s Cathedral, London. [2]


Credits and Attributions:

Fishermen at Sea, J. M. W. Turner, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

[1] Wikipedia contributors, “Fishermen at Sea,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Fishermen_at_Sea&oldid=1000617338 (accessed January 21, 2022).

[2] Wikipedia contributors, “J. M. W. Turner,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=J._M._W._Turner&oldid=1062349164 (accessed January 21, 2022).

2 Comments

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2 responses to “#FineArtFriday: Fishermen at Sea by J. M. W. Turner 1796

  1. I don’t think ‘gloom’ is a color, but if it was, it is definitely used effectively well here.

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