Calais Pier William Turner Buy Art Prints Now
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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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As one of William Turner's earlier paintings, 'Calais Pier' is currently on display in London's National Gallery.

It was not well-received at the time due to some details that a few claim to be unfinished, but is now a piece well-loved by Turner's many modern fans.

Turner often created scenes based on things he had witnessed himself, and 'Calais Pier' is one such example.

As a young man, Turner visited France through Calais, which is a town that is near the English Channel's narrowest point - it is a common place even today to travel from England to France. Turner arrived at the pier during a storm that left him soaked through and thoroughly shaken.

The painting depicts the violent water of the English Channel which often is bombarded with strong winds pushed in both from the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.

The waves roll and the sky above shows daunting clouds. However, it appears that the storm may be beginning to pass; in the centre of the clouds is a cut of blue sky beyond the grey clouds.

This may not be a comfort for those huddled people on the pier in the foreground, as their discomfort is palpable in the tension depicted in their bodies. The ships themselves see no respite from the wind yet, as they tilt dangerously on the waves as they struggle to steer to shore.

Once again Turner plays with light and shape to create the type of drama that builds up gradually in layers.

Looking at the painting at first only gives an impression of a storm, but upon closer inspection it is possible to see how he created this using a number of different elements put together with an expert hand.

Though the use of light in this piece is subtle, it is nonetheless perfect for the scene in Turner's usual masterful way.

Ships on violent water were a commonplace scene, especially in coastal towns such as Calais. Turner took the complexity and tension of something many would have scene only as pure danger and displayed it to express its beauty even alongside the fear.