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
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
fashionHealth concerns and 'pornified' perceptions have made women more conscious at the beach
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Ojo Onaolapo celebrates winning the bronze medal
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Rock band Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s
musicLed Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmHe was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
Sport
Van Gaal said that his challenge in taking over Bobby Robson's Barcelona team in 1993 has been easier than the task of resurrecting the current United side
footballA colourful discussion on tactics, the merits of the English footballer and rebuilding Manchester United
Life and Style
Sainsbury's could roll the lorries out across its whole fleet if they are successful
tech
Travel
The shipping news: a typical Snoozebox construction
travelSpending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Arts and Entertainment
Smart mover: Peter Bazalgette
filmHow live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences
Environment
Neil Young performing at Hyde Park, London, earlier this month
environment
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Project Coordinator

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: The Organisation: The Green Recrui...

Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

£350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

Embedded Linux Engineer

£40000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Embedded Sof...

Senior Hardware Design Engineer - Broadcast

£50000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Working for a m...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

Will Gore: Outside Edge

The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz