The nineteenth century art world accurately resonated with the events of its time. Age-old Western traditions and values were questioned and challenged openly in all forms of communication, public and private1. In an age of anti-conformity, societal and intellectual upheavals were common and almost expected. Monarchies met oppositions in the form of a growing faith in democracy and the church lost its respect among believers2. A new age longing for an expression of emotions, free of restraints, emerges as the dominating inspiration for writers, musicians, and artists3. The 1800s art scene was divided in distinct schools of thoughts constantly challenging and responding to one another4. In particular, romanticism stressed sensibility and human’s ability to choose intuition over rational objectivity. Romantics rebelled against the Neoclassic faith in reason and instead pursued a genuine passion found in heroic figures, intense suffering, and powerful nature5. Joseph Mallord William Turner, an exemplary Romantic painter, obstinately strived to elevate the status of landscape painting, which he infused and highlighted with the supernatural elements of heroic connotation6.
The departure from the holy biblical stories and the glorification of noblemen to the tales of ordinary but amazing men in the context of nature became Turner’s obsession and trademark. His artistic instinct was embodied with an inner divinity, and his subjects and artistic experiments reflected in his radical perspective, approach to painting, and his passion for dramatic depictions of thunderstorms and fires6. The Slave Ship is a depiction worthy of close investigation in an attempt to understand Turner’s motivation and expression. In this paper, succinct background information of the artist, the painting, and art period of the time will first be introduced to establish a necessary context for further examination of Turner’s works of art. A formal analysis of the painting will follow, with arguments from comparing the postcard reproduction of the painting. In addition, my personal experience and response to the painting will be offered in reference to other artists and paintings. Finally, a concluding summary will be presented on the impact and influence of Turner’s artwork in the history of Western art. In this paper, the original art work, The Slave Ship by J.M.W. Tuner, and the postcard reproduction will be thoroughly examined and compared, for discussions in subject observation, artistic insights, and the challenges of reproduction.
... leaving audiences titillated rather than challenged”. Comments such as this and “the best installation art may simply instil a sense of ... would have supporters of modern conceptual art up in arms. His attacks on contemporary artists, who he claims are pursuing ... and interpretations of an artwork, collection, gallery, or particular artist. While some take the opinion that because critical writing ...
Though originally painting calmingly smooth and detailed landscapes, the British artist later turned to the liberal use of striking colors to inspire emotions4. Influenced and inspired by Poussin and Claude, Turner experimented with colors and the depiction of lights in nature7. Inspired by the Zong Massacre, the 1781 mass-killing of African slave on the British slave ship Zong, Turner drew further inspiration from James Thomson’s poem in The Seasons that described the slave ship caught in a typhoon8. Because more slaves were transported on the Zong than allowed by law, the overcrowding, with malnutrition and disease, killed several crew members and slaves7. Seeking compensations for lost cargo, the captain would dispose of the dying slaves to collect drowning insurance. The ship-owners brought civil action against insurance companies, rather than the authorities bring mass-murder charges against the ship-owners. The court proceeding eventually resulted in a landmark court case in the eighteenth century anti-salve trade movement8. Yet, Turner’s The Slave Ship is far from a simple social commentary or historical remembrance. (Slave trade was abolished in 1807 with a fine, and not until twenty years later did slave trade deemed as a crime punishable by death; only in 1833 did all trades ceased and all former slaves freed9.)
... of his work, Turner was a reclusive man, with few friends. He always worked alone and travelled alone. He would exhibit his paintings, but ... Thomas Maltons's home where they were both copying and coloring from the vast Alexander Cozen collection in Malton's possession ... the thunderheads, making it impossible for sunbeams to strike those ships from the side. Rotterdam Ferry-Boat, 1833. This seascape ...
One of the most celebrated painting and often the most recognizable among the artist’s later works10, The Slave Ship epitomizes Turner’s revolutionary insight in using colors as a tool for story-telling and invoking emotions. Victorian era art critic John Ruskin would go as far as claiming the painting as Turner’s magnum opus, a single work immortalizing the artist7. The Slave Ship is not only a prime example of Turner’s obsession with the representation of nature with a special focus on the awesome and unnatural happenings11. Through the personal lens inspired by the event and its societal implication, Turner examines the artistic medium’s power in the effect of colors and brush strokes, as well as the overall composition of the painting, to convey the powerful emotions of the incident as wholly as possible. The painting is full of energy, realized through colors, strokes, and composition, while the audience knows the energy is a tragic force, not a glorious depiction, inspiring adoration or veneration to God of the church that one sees in a Rachael’s Sistine Chapel frescoes.
First exhibited in 1840 at Royal Academy in London1, Turner’s Slave Ship tells story by merging two objects: the horror of the historical event and terrifying might of nature7. The dramatic use of ever-churning colors and merging light throughout the work is decisively the most noticeable artistic element of the painting. (This effect later named ‘envelope’ by Impressionists, became a key characteristic of their works3.) As with many of his other paintings as responses to other artists or works, Turner paired his Slave Ship with an extracted poem of his composition. The poem falls nothing short of what is expressed visually in the painting: the “angry setting sun” along with the “fierce-edged clouds” declares an approaching typhoon12. In sharp sarcasm, Turner commands to sweep the decks and “throw overboard the dead and dying”, in false and guilty hope of acquiring insurance compensation and maintain the sinful market12.
... 'Carthage'; in earlier years. b) Turner believed in the sublimity of his paintings. Turners' paintings instill emotion and thought, and remind ... . Events that took place throughout Turners life. a) Turner supported abolition and painted 'The Slave Ship'; between 1833 and 1840 the ... other than abstract visual terms. 4. Understanding Turner. a) In the painting 'The Sun of Venice Going Out to Sea ...
“Slavers Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying” with a “Typhoon Coming On” further concentrated on the speed of the boat burning a passage in its wake12. The brilliance stems from Turner’s use of a white undercoating instead of the standard brown priming. The highly criticized “yellow fever” 13, the undiluted use of the color yellow and other light colors, became Turner’s identifying trait, neutralizing deep tones for a luminary effect6. The dazzling method is not constructed whimsically; rather it is carefully planned and controlled in chromatic unison, with patches of complementary colors positioned to create a path for the viewers of his paintings16. The audience attention is instantly drawn to the merging of the ocean and the sky, focused on the distant ship, the colors blending yet radiating from within. To be clear, the most striking element in the piece is the vividly eye-catching colors. Though the subject seems to be centered around the ship, upon closer investigation, the hot colors of the sky and the deep ocean take the spotlight. Brilliance, vibrant, and noisy, the orange and reds with bold primary colors instill a power into the painting that draws viewers in and forcefully push viewers back at the same time. The dark sea contrasts starkly with the bright sky, creating aura of visual clash that is transformed into a momentum of power. Turner’s blending of gold, creating the sun’s blinding flare, and blue and purple of the ocean and sky defined his creation of speed, air, and mist. Turner’s masterful use of colors transcends its symbolization of energy; the colors are used as magic to disguise layers upon layers of stories, depictions, and emotions while gaining and building more energy.
Aside from the splashing waters and turbulent orgy of colors, an undeniable element is the blazing path that the passing ship, speeding away into the horizon and the dark storm. The path traveled is non-linear, twisted in direction and varying in sizes, emphasizing the unstoppable waves in motion. The bodies crashing against one another, hands rose with determination, gasping for air and grasping the smallest trace of last hope and swearing vengeance. The portrayal of the stubborn yet helpless hands determines the artistic pathos. The hopeless cause to achieve supplication is etched in the irons still binding and weighing down the slaves. The cuffs are tossed among the foamy waters giving false hope to the victims. Barely noticeable on the left are pools of blood merging from the deep dark ocean. With the most masterful touch, Turner transformed the painting: the blood sets finality to the tale, ending the slaves’ pain in certain death.
... materials, such as weapons, supplies, ships, etc. The colonists desired the slaves because of the heavy workload of ... done would have been delayed. They also desired slaves from Africa because they had killed off most ... New World." Although the moral of having the slaves was wrong, much of the work that colonists ... time.The newly designed sails allowed for the ships to move faster and arrive to their ...
On the other hand, the subject matter is not the only content. Indeed, the painting offers much more in expression, emotions, and techniques. Though the story is clear, it is not solely conveyed in form. The endless ocean opens by its jaw and swallows pitilessly. The fresh remains are swarmed by birds and sea creatures, devouring and desecrating the lifeless corpses. Perhaps as the only way to test the slave traders, fate has brought the storm to punish those guilty of a crime against mankind. Full of sin, the ship retains a color of dark red, its poles, sails, and masts reflecting the shining sun. The redness continues to symbolize the sinful crimes. The storm in The Slave Ship is reminiscent of Turner’s Snowstorm: Hannibal and Army Crossing the Alps14 : The ominously dark snowstorm, demolishing the army and all in the path, embodies the same steadily escalating sense of apocalyptic foreboding, quick overtake the painting. All in all, the ocean has now become a sepulcher for men.
Moreover, an audience regardless of the knowledge of the story could identify some of the many ideas Turner painted. As unfamiliar but awesome technologies quickly developed in Turner’s time, conquering nature through men’s use of reason and science seems not only possible but inevitable. Turner’s The Slave Ship casts an open question that echoes in the valley of history: will men ever face reality and conquer their unrestrained greed and the darkest ideas in the hearts of men.
While the art piece is rooted in context, the painting itself instigated many discussions among contemporary artists and critiques13. The painting is impressive in its simplicity of content and complexity of the many emotions invoked. The few colors used are perfectly in balance while out of an organized order, containing the effect of the event, with the ocean, sky, man-made ships, shackled slaves, and creatures, compressed into one. While the same can be said about Paul Cézanne’s use of simple colors in depicting nature, Cézanne’s drawing are highly ordered geometric. Turner’s demonstration of sublimity through bold blends of colors and invokes awe and criticisms. First, the painting rebels against the use of vantage points and a clear proceeding of a painting that converges at the vanishing point. Turner further abandons the strong emphasis in clear foreshortening and the rigid use of modeling for depth illusion through light and shade. The entire painting is set in endless motion through colors and formlessness, pulling the viewers in and out, along with the rocking vessel and the tossing limbs. The sheer volume of the turbulent body of water is enough to invoke the feeling of being overpowered.
... [on the smoke box front] becomes the key to Turner's entire painting: the modest space into which a doomed old world ... of the train image.' The train in the painting is thus transformed by Turner's use of the sublime. It becomes the ... not the first time railways had been the depicted in art, it was the first time for this kind of subject ...
The open form is essential to the movement of the piece, granting viewers the liberty to browse the painting in no particular order. As if glowing, the work captures an audience immediately with its curious luminosity that carries so much opaque colors and dark subject matters. Like the omnipresent energy of lights, the raw force of nature prevails everywhere in the painting, from the violent power of the vast ocean and its overwhelmingly forceful waves to the deadly typhoon and the blinding sun. Each phenomenon in its place yet interconnected with one another to form a painting of nature that is anything but natural. In the lower portion of the painting, a trail of limping bodies ware left by the ship, now battling the storm. The hands of the enslaved Africans are still in shackles, physically restrained, further emphasizing the urgency of the situation. Turner meticulously painted in the chains and the mangled limbs, tossed formlessly among water and foam, setting up for terror of the situation.
The pace of the painted scene is quick yet heavy, skillfully created through the seemingly messy yet unifying brush strokes. Upon close inspection, the surface of the painting is as telling as the emotions perceived from the illustration of the raw power of nature. Exemplary of Turner’s later works, The Slave Ship shifts from chiaroscuro11, as seen in the upper left to the rough, sticky paste of color and the oily and thick brushstrokes in the sky, neither of which are hidden but purposefully highly visible to convey roughness and to accent the turbulent waves and powerful emotions. Indeed, painted scene directly reflects the subject matter, a seemingly crude painting technique representing the cruel treatment of the captives.
... and said, 'That's not a work of art, it's a painting!' 'A painting is a work of art,' I said. She did not agree ... bicycle handlebars tied to a saddle (Picasso) or a picture postcard of the Mona Lisa with a moustache drawn on it ... series of bright colors, a monumental building, or a parade. We can all be thrilled and soothed by art.Art is a species ...
Initially, viewers are immediately attracted to sun placed in the center of the painting. As one becomes more aware of the surrounding, the violent sensation dominates the rest of the viewing experience. Following the explosion of white colors from the center to the remaining sky, the viewer is in awe of the richness in color. Viewers quickly get splashed and overwhelmed from all the happenings depicted, from the birds to the vessel and everything in between. When the entire painting is viewed in full, revelation is clear: Tuner invokes judgment and sympathy. The conflicting emotions that are blended in reaction to the painting.
While no one can now relate directly to the experience of a slave ship transport, everyone who observes the painting with the slightest care would be easily able sense the pulsating energy emanating from the 90.8 x 122.6 cm canvas11. It is as if the oil is still wet, the energy of the sun and the sea still piercing in full bloom. The gloom of tragic deaths is palpable in the heavy air, and the atmosphere moist with a sense of doom. Just as the colors are made to contrast and conflict, the raw energy juxtaposes with the sad loss of human lives.
Exactly what the painting is trying to accomplish is a question perhaps without a satisfyingly comprehensive answer. The art is historically relevant, in context and artistically radical in form and colors. From the use of colors as an impressive techniques and the violent mood depicted by the storm and the sea to the gory details of the slaves and mythical giant fish hunting for flesh, the painting ends up creating many more stories than it is intended to tell. Like Jonah’s whale engulfing swimmers of the sea, Turner’s creatures sneak into the right background in a rhythm in sync with the waves. The frenzy feeding among the chaotic attacks creates even more elements for viewers to consider. Moreover, the ship’s suffering in the storm for its sin and the slaves’ suffering in their destiny, this tragic depiction of epic proportion instills another hauntingly hollow attitude on top of the intense emotional response, a macabre mood that is uncomfortably intimate and heavy.
Typical of other romantic works, Turner’s Slave Ship has a diagonal composition for good reasons11. The ambiguous yet present horizon of the ocean is slanted, giving a sense of unstableness and motion. Cutting across the sun and its reflection forms the diagonal representation. The implied lines are not clear but in abundance to show the movement of the ocean13. Readers know the directions implied, but cannot fully predict the fate of the subject. The two edges on the bottom of the painting are not fully painted, absent in the post card. The clearly exposed canvas at the two corners, rounded off by neat strokes, while the sky is infinite, full to the brim of the upper canvas. Such corners and details are lost in any reproduction, especially in postcards.
Though the relative colors of the painting are faithfully reproduced in the postcard, the reproduced colors miss much of the brilliance critically important to the original artwork and the artist’s message. The image seems flat on the postcard, with little left for the imagination. The eyes easily soak in all the elements at once, leaving no time for imagination and realization, no space for personal reflection. Thus, emotions invoked by the postcard are feeble compared to the intense feelings one experiences standing in front of the painting. Though not a physically huge work of art, the original Slave Ship is able to have enough colors for viewers to consider, hence drawing us in, while a postcard can hardly mesmerize successfully. The postcard art becomes an object in itself, no longer a master art piece hanging and to be pondered and discussed. By virtue of its dimensions, much of the power in colors is lost. The size of the postcard cannot fully relay the artist’s intention. Though the postcard captures the rough surface texture of painting, it is overly exaggerated, leaving the audience lost in defining the rough brushstrokes, not focusing on other aspects of the art. The colors on the postcard are too vibrant in contrast, a common theme in artistic reproductions.
The challenges in reproduction are many, closely dependent on the artist and the art work itself. The postcard shows not the technique developed or the raw energy the purest form. The historical story perhaps is conveyed, and the elements of colors and compositions are retained with the help of reproduction and shrinkage technologies. However, the postcard, no matter the technology, gives no justice to the strength in colors, perhaps the most crucial component of the work. The contrast is dully digital on the postcard, losing the dazzling whites of the breaking waves on the left and magnificent bareness of the sun in it most natural form. The eye-catching spectrum of red, orange, and purple that channels anger to the audience is not early as identifiable in the postcard.
Though I have prior knowledge of the painting seen from art textbooks, the inspiration invoked is as new and intense as the first time I saw the painting in person many years ago. Having seen other Turner’s works in museums and books, I have come to appreciate his unique style of painting. Seeing and comparing the production of this work in detail for the first time has given me new insight. This application of different personal lenses is a direct result of reading Berger’s “Ways of Seeing” 15. The foremost is that my belief in seeing art pieces live is confirmed. It is as if the artist itself has left certain non-transferable factors on the canvas of the art itself, and only through a live experience can one fully comprehend its power. The impact of having prior knowledge enabled me to examine the painting more closely, while not impacting the appropriate degree of objectivity. I am continually surprised by the sheer amount of energy emanating from the painting one would expect from a much larger piece.
The analysis and comparison of the Turner’s The Slave Ship and its postcard reproduction have been presented in full. Turner, through his creative artworks, established landscape as a serious art form6. His “pervasive fascination with human life in all its manifestations” became the sole drive behind his painting, evident in his choice of topics and techniques11. Turner’s discovery and utilization of colors and abstraction pushed the expression of the oil-paint medium to the limit. Modern art’s only central message of its subject stems from this very idea. No postcard reproduction is capable of expressing such phenomenal impact. Monet’s Impression: Sunrise most certainly drew inspiration from Turner’s art, a pivotal contribution to the development of Impressionism and other trends to follow. Indeed, Turner influenced future generations of artists and forever altered the subject content and the progression of the history of Western art.