In-depth Discussion: J. M. W. Turner

Joseph Mallord William Turner. A Coast Scene with Fishermen Hauling a Boat Ashore ("The Iveagh Sea-Piece"), ca. 1803-04. Oil on canvas. 36 1/8 x 48 1/4 in. Kenwood House, English Heritage; Iveagh Bequest (88028820). Photo courtesy American Federation of Arts.

J. M. W. Turner (1775–1851) is best known for his landscapes, evocative and powerful, of Europe on the brink of the industrial revolution.

A Coast Scene with Fishermen Hauling a Boat Ashore (“The Iveagh Sea-Piece”) (ca. 1803–04) is an example of one of Turner’s favorite subjects, the sea—and how man fits within it. The sky and sea are turbulent, and the small figures are struggling to haul in their fishing boat after a day’s work. As if to remind the viewer that this is a normal day, one fisherman sits on his boat to the right, calmly watching the scene, in a patch of sunlight.

Turner uses contrast to enhance the tension within this work of art. From the colors themselves (black skies to frothy white waves) to the subjects (the laboring fishermen versus the lounging onlooker), Turner creates a dynamic scene that explores humankind’s relationship to nature.

Discussion Questions

  • Imagine that you are inside this scene. What would you smell and hear?
  • How does the artist use paint to give us a sense of the weather?

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