Turner wins national art poll

As 'The Fighting Temeraire' wins a nationwide art poll, Louise Jury looks at how a masterpiece came into being

Although Britain is commemorating the 200th anniversary of the battle this year, it has not been the country's passion for the sea that has catapulted the Temeraire back to national headlines, but art.

J M W Turner's The Fighting Temeraire yesterday topped the poll held by the National Gallery and BBC Radio 4's Today programme to find the nation's favourite painting.

Yet it is not the ship's moment of glory, second in line to Admiral Lord Nelson's Victory, that Turner records, but its sad demise.

The painting, produced between 1838 and 1839, shows the old ship being towed by a steam tug up the Thames from Sheerness in Kent to a breaker's yard in Rotherhithe, south London - hence its full title The Fighting Temeraire tugged to her Last Berth to be broken up 1838. In a move interpreted by some as Turner's nostalgic commentary on the passing of the age of sail to be replaced by that of the Industrial Revolution, he contrasted the veteran ship, seen against the setting sun, with the modern steam-propelled tug.

And he bequeathed an extra dignity with a new nickname he apparently invented - the Fighting Temeraire. The Temeraire was named after a French ship previously defeated by the British Navy. At the time of Trafalgar, the ship was known by the epithet Saucy.

When the great sea battle off Spain was won, it was praised in the dispatch to the Admiralty in which the death of Nelson was also announced.

Peter van der Merwe, of the National Maritime Museum, which is highlighting the Temeraire's role at Trafalgar in its exhibition on Nelson and Napoleon, said it was a glorious painting but few people today probably knew much of the Temeraire's distinguished history.

"They know the painting but they don't know what part she played at Trafalgar," he said.

Yet in the 19th century, it was sufficiently famous for her ignoble end to be reported in The Times.

Turner may have read the reports because, despite claims that he sketched her progress upriver from life in 1838, no sketches exist while they do for similar related works.

And it is not an accurate representation of the scene. The ship was enormous and required two tugs to pull it, not one. The masts and sails would have been removed already and the sunset was an impossibility unless the ship was going the wrong way, Mr van der Merwe said.

However, the painting, produced late in Turner's life, remained a personal favourite which he called "my darling" and refused to sell despite all offers.

He gave it to the nation as part of a bequest to the Tate upon his death, although it hangs in the National Gallery.

Minna Moore Ede, an assistant curator at the National Gallery, said it was fitting that the nation had paid homage to Turner in return for his generosity. His innovative greatness should not be underestimated.

"He's become quintessentially British, yet at the time he was a prototype Impressionist," she said. "He was, of course, a truly great colourist and this is one of his masterpieces. And he was truly innovative in terms of technique."

Many of his later works were deemed mad or incomprehensible by contemporary audiences yet this work had won immediate praise.

It won 31,892 votes in the national poll for favourite works in a British gallery against 21,711 for John Constable's The Hay Wain, which was in second place, and A Bar at the Folies-Bergère, Edouard Manet's work which lay in third with more than 13,000.

Nearly 119,000 votes were cast making it Radio 4's largest poll.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Babysitter Katie and Paul have terse words in the park
tvReview: The strength of the writing keeps viewers glued to their seats even when they are confronted with the hard-hitting scenes
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
Sport
England’s opening goalscorer Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain battles with Scotland’s Charlie Mulgrew
FootballEngland must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil
Life and Style
Make-up artists prepare contestants for last year’s Miss World, held in Budapest
fashion
Sport
Wigan Athletic’s back-of-the shirt sponsor Premier Range has pulled out due to Malky Mackay’s arrival
Football
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Argyll Scott International: FP&A Manager Supply Chain

Benefits: Argyll Scott International: Argyll Scott is recruiting for a Permane...

Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property NQ+

£30000 - £50000 per annum + EXCELLENT: Austen Lloyd: COMMERCIAL PROPERTY SOLI...

Argyll Scott International: Retail Commercial Finance Analyst

Benefits: Argyll Scott International: Due to further expansion, a leading inte...

Langley James : Senior Technician; Promotion & Training Opp; Borough; upto £32k

£27000 - £32000 per annum + training: Langley James : Senior Technician; Promo...

Day In a Page

US immigration: President Obama ready to press ahead with long-promised plan to overhaul 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?

Immigration: Obama's final frontier

The President is ready to press ahead with the long-promised plan to overhaul America's 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?
Bill Cosby rape allegations explained: Why are these allegations coming out now? Why didn’t these women come forward earlier? And why has nobody taken legal action?

Bill Cosby rape allegations explained

Why are these allegations coming out now? Why has nobody taken legal action? And what happens next for the man once thought of as 'America's Dad'
Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain

You know that headache you’ve got?

Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain
Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?

Scoot commute

Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?
Paul Robeson: The story of how an American icon was driven to death to be told in film

The Paul Robeson story

How an American icon was driven to death to be told in film
10 best satellite navigation systems

Never get lost again: 10 best satellite navigation systems

Keep your vehicle going in the right direction with a clever device
Paul Scholes column: England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil

Paul Scholes column

England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil
Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win says defender as he prepares to return with Hull

Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win

Hull defender faces his struggling former club on Sunday ready to show what they are missing. But he says he will always be grateful to Tottenham
Frank Warren column: Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game

Frank Warren column

Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game
Synagogue attack: Fear unites both sides of Jerusalem as minister warns restoring quiet could take 'months'

Terror unites Jerusalem after synagogue attack

Rising violence and increased police patrols have left residents of all faiths looking over their shoulders
Medecins sans Frontieres: The Ebola crisis has them in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa

'How do you carry on? You have to...'

The Ebola crisis has Medecins sans Frontieres in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa
Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Residents in what was Iraq’s safest city fear an increase in jihadist attacks, reports Patrick Cockburn
Underwater photography competition winners 2014 - in pictures

'Mysterious and inviting' shot of diver wins photography competition

Stunning image of cenote in Mexico takes top prize
Sir John Major: Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting

Sir John Major hits out at theatres

Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting
Kicking Barbie's butt: How the growth of 3D printing enabled me to make an army of custom-made figurines

Kicking Barbie's butt

How the growth of 3D printing enabled toy-designer to make an army of custom-made figurines