Sunrise with Sea Monsters William Turner Buy Art Prints Now
from Amazon

* As an Amazon Associate, and partner with Google Adsense and Ezoic, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
Email: [email protected] / Phone: +44 7429 011000

With one of the more unusual titles for his works, 'Sunrise with Sea Monsters' by J. M. W. Turner is an oil painting depicting an unusual scene in rich yellow.

Painted toward the end of his life, Turner began at this stage in his career to focus as much on pure light and colour as the obsessive detail in his earlier life, and this is one of the best paintings to show how he did this without losing relevance in the art scene of the time - or today.

The complex yellow sunrise of the painting blurs in to the grey sea. That much is clear from a casual viewing of the painting, but past that there are multiple interpretations of the subject of it.

There is an unusual shape in the lower left of the painting, almost bubbling up from the turbulent sea, and it is this shape which gives the painting its irreverant name.

There is the chance, of course, that the title is meant literally. In that case the shape is a sea monster rising from the depths, threatening the tranquility of the sunrise. Turner's work is likely to have encouraged some of the stunning Monet sunset paintings.

However, the experts at the Tate Gallery in London, UK (which holds the painting as part of its permanent collection), concluded that there is no reason to believe it is anything but fish.

If this is the case, they say, there is the slight cross-hatching in the same area that may be interpreted as fishing nets, and therefore it may just be a scene of fishermen catching their daily haul in the indistinct sunrise and roiling sea.

Whichever is the correct interpretation of the paining, the colours are what make this artwork stand out. Turner expertly turns a simple yellow into a beautiful sunrise, letting it fade into the grey sea without losing any of its warmth.

The delicate details may be obscured in this particular style that he favoured toward this time, but that does not make the painting any less formidable.

The use of colours and ambiguity in the painting make it one of the most fascinating of Turner's works, and is sure to catch the eye and cause conversation with anyone viewing it.