Shipwreck 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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In 1805, J. M. W. Turner created one of his most dramatic paintings in Shipwreck. A stunning scene of rolling waves and desperate sailors, this painting has turned heads for more than two centuries and will continue to do so.

When grand wooden ships ruled the seas, every sailor's greatest fear was a storm big enough to turn their vessel to scraps.

In 'Shipwreck', the small ships tilt dangerously on the rising waves, and you can almost hear the cries of the sailors as they cling to the rope to save their crew. The fear is palpable, reflected in the dark, swooping colors of the sea and the sky.

Turner's art was something new in its time, and there is a reason that he remains an important figure two hundred years later. Even in this dark painting, he uses light in the most striking of ways, emphasizing the darkness that turns into foreboding for the fates of those in the scene.

Turner began painting at a young age, and his talent matured as he did until he seemed able to make the water itself lift from the canvas. The waves appear real enough that it is almost possible to hear them crashing.

The cold light on the rough sea leaves no one unmoved. One of the wonders of art in Turner's time was the ability to bring far distant scenes to the foreground, and to make previously transient ideas into reality.

Those seeing this painting at its first showing would have known of the troubles of sailors at sea, but to view it firsthand in this display would have been shocking.

It is difficult to understand the impact in a post-photography age, but art like this had an important place in the hearts of Turner's peers.

In the years that have past, this scene is a less common one, and photography brings reality into our minds in a new way. However, 'Shipwreck' loses none of its relevance due to its beautiful light and desperate tension.

It carries with it a snapshot of a time long past, expertly rendered onto canvas. William Turner's fantastic talent makes this painting something to admire and display as much as possible.