Joseph M. W. Turner The Slave Ship
Joseph Mallord William Turner, a famous landscape artist from England, was born in 1775. From an early age, he excelled at painting, and was encouraged to pursue it in his formal studies. Turner’s talents were so well honed that by the time of his death, he had raised interest in his Romantic landscape paintings to a state once singularly reserved for paintings of historic subjects. Most of Turner’s masterpieces were created with watercolors or oil paints, and focused on maritime scenes. With The Slave Ship Turner truly made a name for himself.
For many who think of Turner The Slave Ship is an image that automatically comes to mind. Completed with oil paints, it depicts a departing ship in the distance that leaves a number of abandoned slaves struggling in the violent seas in its wake. Seagulls and fish ominously circle around the chained slaves. The fiery red skies, suggesting a coming storm, add to the foreboding atmosphere, almost making it look like there is a fire raging in the background. To create the sense of incredible intensity in The Slave Ship Turner used quick, short brush strokes. The slaves are purposely portrayed as small, lost figures, while the ship is equally tiny, giving viewers a sense of how hopeless the situation was to the abandoned men. Turner’s bold use of color in the sky and even in the churning waters adds to the sense of upheaval and desperation.
Before painting The Slave Ship Turner had been inspired by a book he read on the slave trade and its eventual abolition. In one chapter, the book introduces a captain who claims that throwing sick slaves overboard would save him insurance costs. At the time, the British Empire had already abolished slavery, but the practice still continued in other countries. Turner felt extremely strongly on the subject and turned to what he did best in order to voice his opinion. For Turner The Slave Ship was not only created to speak out against this point, but also to support the Anti-Slavery Society, who were holding a conference to discuss the issue. It is quite likely that thanks to Turner The Slave Ship did have the desired impact that he had set out to create. Just three years later when the British Empire vowed to crack down even more strictly on slavery, other countries along the Atlantic felt pressured into following their example. The coming years saw a marked decrease in slavery. While The Slave Ship was so highly relevant at the time, even today it is an important reminder of the darker times of our past.
- A Brief Analysis of The Slave Ship
- Joseph Mallord William Turner
- Turner’s Impact on Landscape Paintings
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