Famous Paintings by J. M. W. Turner

12 of the Most Famous Paintings by J. M. W. Turner

These are the 12 most famous paintings by J. M. W. Turner. Joseph Mallord William Turner was an English Romantic painter, printmaker, and watercolorist who lived from 1775 to 1851. He’s recognized for his vibrant colorizations, innovative landscapes, and dramatic, often violent sea paintings.

The Fighting Temeraire (1839)

The Fighting Temeraire is certainly number one of the famous paintings by J. M. W. Turner, depicting the battleship Temeraire being towed by a steam-powered tug on its final journey before being broken up. It represents the collapse of Britain’s naval strength, the end of the “glory” of sail, and the rise of “modern” technology in a more industrialized Britain. Turner’s excellent use of light and color evokes a sense of loss, which is a reflection of the end of the era. This picture was voted the #1 British painting by the public and is also included on the 20-pound note.

Rain, Steam and Speed – The Great Western Railway (1844)

This is a painting of the Great Western Railway, which was one of the most praised accomplishments of the industrial age in Britain because of the ideas of Bristolian engineer Kingdom Brunel. Steam swirls and a flowing sky help to create the sense of a moving train. In a static painting, the painting conveys a sense of enormous speed, which sets Turner apart from other artists.

Sunrise with Sea Monsters (1845)

This painting depicts a hazy yellow sunrise over a stormy grey sea. An unclear pink shape in the lower center of the painting is most likely a fish, and a red and white float and part of a net can be seen nearby. This is an unfinished famous painting by Turner. 

The Battle of Trafalgar (1822)

This painting depicts the naval battle between the British Royal Navy, led by Lord Admiral Nelson, the Spanish-French coalition, and Pierre-Charles Villeneuve. The Battle of Trafalgar was one of Britain’s most significant victories in the 19th century. Due to supposed historical inaccuracies, the artwork has become a point of conflict however remains one of the famous paintings by J. M. W. Turner.

Calais Pier (1803)

This painting depicts a real event Turner experienced when traveling from Dover to Calais in 1802 on his first journey abroad and was almost drowned in a storm at sea. The scenario appears to be chaotic, with the possibility of a disaster. This was the first painting to show signs of Turner’s massive strength, according to critic John Ruskin.

Venice from the Porch of Madonna della Salute (1835)

This painting depicts the palaces of Venice merging into the lagoon’s waters through subtle reflections. Turner created this view using his extensive experience as a maritime painter and the perfection of his watercolor technique. The painting is not realistic and was inspired by one of his three journeys to Venice.

Self-Portrait (1799)

Note only one of the most famous paintings by J. M. W. Turner, this is also one of the most famous self-portraits in art history. This portrait depicts the talented artist in a full-faced half-length view, staring right out at the viewer. When Turner was 24 years old, he painted this self-portrait. Against a featureless brown background, his brightly lit features shine. In March 2020, the Bank of England issued a £20 note with this self-portrait on it.

Light and Colour (Goethe’s Theory) – The Morning after the Deluge – Moses Writing the Book of Genesis (1843)

This painting depicts the aftermath of the Great Flood story, as described in the Book of Genesis. The man’s role is portrayed as passive because of his inability to manage nature, which is beautiful in its power to destroy and restore life. Turner’s conviction in God’s power is also demonstrated in this piece, since it is He who causes the flood, allows Noah to live, and inspires Moses to write the Book of Genesis.

The Evening of the Deluge (1843)

The Evening of the Deluge is an abstract representation of a landscape that is divided between heaven and earth by a horizon in the center. Since the light is circular, it appears strong and fascinating. The landscape is painted in such a way that it encourages everyone to use their imagination and create their own ideas.

The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons (1835)

This painting depicts the fire that happened at the Houses of Parliament. From the south bank of the Thames, opposite Westminster, Turner watched the Burning of Parliament. Later that year, in 1835, Turner painted a second painting of the same subject, this time from a different perspective, closer to Waterloo Bridge.

Fishermen at Sea (1796)

This painting depicts one major fishing boat with a lot of support boats spread around in the background. “Fishermen at Sea,” which is also known as the “Cholmeley Sea Piece.” While the rest of the painting is relatively dark, Turner carefully directs our gaze to a primary ship, allowing us to see a little further detail. 

The Slave Ship (1840)

This is one of the famous paintings by J. M. W. Turner and also his darkest artwork. We see here a ship sailing over a turbulent sea of churning water, leaving a trail of scattered human beings in its wake. “The Slave Ship” was originally titled “Slavers Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying—Typhoon coming on.” This is a classic example of a Romantic maritime artwork.

What famous paintings by J. M. W. Turner do you think we should add to this list? Comment below.

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