Shipwrecks are the stuff of nightmares as we are stranded far away from home and at the mercy of the primal power of the elements. For this reason they are a common theme of Romantic paintings. Turner had a lifelong passion for the sea. It is unknown whether this work was painted from a scene he witnessed or inspired by a popular poem by William Falconer that was reissued in 1804. The dark tones of this painting is typical of Turner’s early work and provides a striking contrast with the white crests of the waves.
Joseph Mallord William Turner
The Shipwreck exhibited 1805
170.5 x 241.6 cm
Date of work
Oil paint on canvas 170.5 x 241.6 cm
Joseph Mallord William Turner was born in London; he remained a Londoner and kept a Cockney accent all his life despite dominating British landscape painting throughout the first half of the 19th century. He established a reputation in the Royal Academy, first as a topographical watercolourist and then within a few years as a painter of sublime and historical landscapes. From the mid-1790s he settled on the routine he maintained for much of his life: touring in summer and working in the studio in the winter months. He opened his own gallery and had many patrons and admirers as well as detractors. After his death a large body of his works in oil and watercolour was given to the British nation, with many on show at Tate Britain.