Representation of the Sea in the Paintings of J.M.W. Turner

Representation of the Sea in the Paintings of J.M.W. Turner


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Table of Contents

1.0 Introduction. 3

2.0 J.M.W Turner Obsession with the Sea. 3

2.1 Fishermen at Sea, 1796. 3

2.2 Fishermen upon a Lee-Shore, in Squally Weather. 4

2.3 Blue Sea and Distant Ship Painting. 4

2.4 Waves Breaking Against the Wind Painting. 4

2.5 Staffa, Fingal’s Cave Painting. 4

3.0 Diverse Perspectives about J.M.W Turner’s Methods. 4

4.0   Personal View on J.M.W Turner’s Works. 6

5.0 Significance of Turner’s Use of Light and Water in His Pieces. 7

6.0 Striking Similarities between Turner’s Paintings and Joseph Conrad’s Novels in Regards to Modernism. 7

7.0 Conclusions. 7

References. 7


1.0 Introduction

J.M.W. Turner is arguably one of the greatest artists who ever lived having played a huge role in the arts and painting industry. Turner’s innovative painting techniques have seen his works focus a lot on the scientific and technological advances which have been made during the times he lived.  It was his perspectives in painting that made him as outstanding among other painters of his time.  For instance, one aspect which uniquely identified Turner’s works included the exceptional use of color and the presentation of more abstract paintings in his works.  This led to many people claiming that J.M.W. Turner as the initiator of modern day landscape painting. This paper will undertake a comprehensive analysis of how the natural beauty and the power of the sea have been presented in J.M.W. Turner’s paintings and showcasing the context and relevance of the painting as well.  Similarly, the study will be able to integrate some of the views that other artists and painters have brought forward concerning the landscape artistic works of J.M.W. Turner.

2.0 J.M.W Turner Obsession with the Sea

Turner vast interest in the seas and the whalers has been one of his most recognized elements ever to the world over history. A number of paintings were made in this regard which proved that indeed Turner is the supreme maritime painter of all times. Some of this paintings include:

2.1 Fishermen at Sea, 1796 Painting

This painting was termed as one of the greatest pieces which Turner worked for that saw it being exhibited at the Royal Academy. In this painting, one can see the spectacular moonlight scene as the fishermen row their boat in the dark light. The theme depicted in this painting is the power of nature and the Sublime which creates a whole new feeling in the sea (Stewart, 2012). The use of color and light has also been largely explored in this works as seen in the moon, water mass and the fishermen. For instance the moonlight brings a new and open contrast as compared to the small glittering lantern on the boat. This painting further shows how powerful nature is above all other elements in the world and the fisherman’s struggle in the sea that is largely determined by their fate.

2.2 Fishermen upon a Lee-Shore, in Squally Weather

This popular painting has in principal used massive dampness of the paper which then creates the ideal watercolor from the wide selection of brushes as used by the artist.  The use of color and light effect has been for the most part seen in the ways that the ship is depicted swaying to the left side of the picture as made from the color adjustments (Bockemühl & Turner, 2000). The sea has also been painted through a unique form of calligraphic effect that best describes the sea as agitated. Through the color effect, one can see the foregrounds which have been covered by enormous waves which are showcased moving towards the far-away horizon. Gilson (2013) states that the representation of this painting by Turner seeks to show the marvelous nature of the coast landscape and a greater perfection towards some of the works that Turner had earlier on created.

2.3 Blue Sea and Distant Ship Painting

Unlike other forms of painting done by Turner, the Blue Sea and Distant Ship painting has been quite significance, especially in the use of watercolor made from sketches. These forms of painting were mainly drawn from the consistent sue of non-figurative forms of painting that had become quite prominent on the onset of the 20th Century. Further to that Tuner was able to ensure that the painting portrayed abstract feelings an element emphasized by the use of intense watercolors and oil paint.  Through this painting, Turner showed his prowess in the use of a wide variety of imagery in his works.  The perfection of combining the land and seas forms of painting grew greatly among the artists within the 20th century. According to May (2014) this painting has been grouped together with hundreds of other paintings which were then referred to as color “beginnings”.

2.4 Waves Breaking Against the Wind Painting

2.5 Staffa, Fingal’s Cave Painting

3.0 Diverse Perspectives about J.M.W Turner’s Methods

J.M.W Turner as an artist was able to attract different views from people all over the world. Some of the people who were able to criticize his works include Simon Rogers who was a poetic living in the England.  In this case, Rogers saw a lot of missing and inadequate elements which surround Turner’s paintings especially in the watermarks usage. Rogers indicated that most of the painting work made by Turner were returned back to him because  they were of “poor quality”  it is for this reason that many of the paintings were made but few were sent to publications or even to the showrooms for the people to view (Gilson, 2013). Thus many of the paintings had to remain in Turner’s possession as seen in paintings such as the sought-after collectables.

Turner as an artist was able to showcase a great sense of displaying the evolutionary works of art as seen in most of his works. Despite the fact that he was able to maintain his sphere of working on the field of landscape, attention had now shifted to other fields such with a lot of concentration seen about the effects of light and color. It is at this juncture the Turner’s fascination in the natural world, the seas and the atmospheric aspects gained momentum. According to Bockemühl & Turner (2000), Turner was a remarkable artist who was in the best position of painting the natural beautiful sea an aspect highly invoked in most of his works on the coastal landscape. Turner’s talent and skills saw him not only as an English romantic scenery visual artist and watercolorist, but he was also known for his unique taste in the oil paintings. Turner’s painting techniques can be seen in reference to the Romantic preference to Impressionism (Stewart, 2012).

A unique characteristic about the works of Turner could be viewed in the ways in which he used highly expressive watercolors and also did oil paintings. It was therefore not coincidental that that most of his imaginations were centered on shipwrecks, fires, natural catastrophes, and natural phenomena like sunlight, storm, rain, and fog. He was fascinated by the way in which the violent power of the sea as seen in Dawn after the Wreck (1840) and The Slave Ship (1840)  an aspect brought about by the stimulation he acquired from the seas (Wainwright & Williams, 2005).

Walsh, Teo & Baydala (2014) hypothesize that William Hazlitt was one of the detractors who came out strongly and criticized most of the works done by Turner.  For instance, at one point William Hazlitt stated that Turner’s paintings were nothing more than “abstractions of aerial perspective” and that the objects were not adequately represented precisely as they exist in the world’s natural environment.

However, Turner was a person less concerned about targeting specific places of his paintings and thus the shift he made from other motion elements towards the color beginnings (Russell, 2014). These works have been accepted and acknowledged by other artists such as John Constable who initially had shown great dislikes towards the various forms of painting of Tuner especially the ones which portray the effects of color and light. He added also that Turner had succeeded in capturing the “golden visions” which have entailed fine art and that such painting are worth anything.

4.0   Personal View on J.M.W Turner’s Works

Having analyzed most of the works done by J.M.W Turner, it is certain that his contribution towards the field of has been invaluable.  One can almost see the sense of passion which exists in his paintings. The captivation of the natural, beauty of the seas has been greatly captured in the paintings, thereby showing some of the hidden values which the artist had in mind. Not only was J.M.W Turner a romantic landscape painter, but also invoked using oil paintings for his works with real life colors that brought the pictures to life.

Most artists usually got inspiration to do art and painting from their fellow painters through imitation and learning.  It is in the same case that Turner like many other artists of his time in the world was able to retrieve his knowledge and remained influenced by artists who came before him. For instance, artists such as John Roberts Cozens and Richard Wilson were able to monitor the works of Tuner. Amazingly was the ways in which Turner could be able to study other artists painting techniques and come up with his own creative ways of making the paintings even more pleasing and innovative?

According to Costello & Turner (2012) the works of an artist are usually influenced by various elements which similarly affect the intended message for such forms of art. For instance, in this case most of the paintings of Turner such as Study of Sea: Stormy Sky.  In such a painting people can come up with various explanations depending on their perspective and understanding of the painting. However, the meaning between the creators of an artistic piece may not be consistent with the viewers’ perspectives. In this case, then one should study an art piece in an objective and open mind so as to get the precise and intended meaning as the original artist had intended.

5.0 Significance of Turner’s Use of Light and Water in His Pieces

6.0 Striking Similarities between Turner’s Paintings and Joseph Conrad’s Novels in Regards to Modernism.

7.0 Conclusions

Joseph Mallord William Tuner has been one of the most celebrated artists based on his contribution in the arts field.  Mainly, Turner focused on paintings while he settled on several mediums such as oil, prints and watercolors.  As seen in the paintings, Turner engaged his interest towards the landscapes and scenery elements as his subjects. The chosen and ideal art movements in Tuner’s works were majorly romanticism (May, 2014).

The genre of landscape has marked an evolutionary way in which Turner was able to express his paintings. However, as Turner gained experience of his works, he was able to shift from the contemporary art forms towards painting landscapes through emphasizing on the effects of light and color. It is through this fascination that he was able to see remarkable appreciation for his works both in the private and public displays on the landscape paintings.



Bockemühl, M., & Turner, J. M. W. (2000). Turner. Taschen. New York. Print

Costello, L., & Turner, J. M. W. (2012). JMW Turner and the Subject of History. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd..

Dominiczak, M. H. (2012). On storms, ships, and railways. JMW Turner. Clinical Chemistry, 58(4), 800-802.

Gilson, T. (2013). From the Reference Desk-Oxford Companion to JMW Turner, Encyclopedia of Asian Philosphy and the Handbook of Shock Waves. Against the Grain, 13(5), 22.

May, S. J. (2014). Voyage of The Slave Ship: JMW Turner’s Masterpiece in Historical Context. McFarland.

Russell, S. (2014). JMW Turner’s Vortex: Painting, Alchemy, and Literature in the Perspective Lectures and Sketchbooks.

Stewart, S. (2012). Roads, Rivers, Railways and Pedestrian Rambles: The Space and Place of Travel in William Wordsworth’s Poems and JMW Turner’s Paintings. Nineteenth-Century Contexts, 34(2), 159-184.

Turner, J. M. W. (2014). Delphi Works of JMW Turner (Illustrated) (Vol. 5). Delphi Classics.

Wainwright, S. P., & Williams, C. (2005). Biography and vulnerability: Loss, dying and death in the Romantic paintings of JMW Turner (1775-1851). Auto/Biography, 13(1), 16-32.

Walsh, R. T., Teo, T., & Baydala, A. (2014). A critical history and philosophy of psychology: Diversity of context, thought, and practice. Cambridge University Press.


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