Fishermen at Sea by J. M. W. Turner

Fishermen at Sea, first oil on canvas painting by English Romantic J. M. W. Turner c.1796, known as the Cholmeley Sea Piece.
Fishermen at Sea by J. M. W. Turner (1796)

J. M. W. Turner’s Fishermen at Sea Description, Briefly

A Storm and Stress painting, A Shipwreck in Stormy Seas c.1773 by French romantic landscape painter Claude-Joseph Vernet.
A Shipwreck in Stormy Seas
by Claude-Joseph Vernet (1773)
Fishermen at Sea is a moonlight night landscape painting by English romantic J. M. W. Turner circa 1794-1796. Alongside being the first oil on canvas artwork Mr. Turner created, it is probably his first painting exhibited in the Royal Academy London in 1796; however this remains as a controversial topic. The large canvas rarely recognized with its alias, Cholmeley Sea Piece, used to be displayed in the Ante-Room of R.A. London. It shared same compass together with oil painting portraits and landscapes, which some belonged to the notable portraitists of the Golden Age, such as William Beechey and John Hoppner.

An Avalanche in the Alps c.1803 by Philip-Jacques (or James) de Loutherbourg, a sublime landscape painting by French romantic
An Avalanche in the Alps by
Philip James de Loutherbourg (1803)
William Turner’s Fishermen at Sea was a milestone for the 19-year-old young artist, which has built the reputation and led him to enhance his pure talent on oil works too, as a watercolorist, whose already a large number of watercolor scenery paintings being hung in the Council Room and Antique Academy in London’s heart. Despite Sir William Beechey paintings the romantic master highly influenced, the midnight nocturnal themes were the rising trend of late 18th Century for landscape painters all around the world.

A View of Vesuvius from Posillipo, Naples c.1779-1800, romantic landscape with moonlight depiction by Joseph Wright of Derby.
A View of Vesuvius from Posillipo,
Naples by Joseph Wright of Derby
Impressing the observer on the subjects of historical events or historical figures, which presents a nature vs. human situation, was the vogue of the time; however frames from the lives of ordinary people could also be chosen painting subjects largely. The painting of A Shipwreck in Stormy Seas by Claude-Joseph Vernet, and his beloved son Horace Vernet’s Stormy Coast Scene after a Shipwreck, were enthusiastic sceneries emphasizing the greatness of nature, and its superiority to mankind, as well as, Philip James de Loutherbourg’s An Avalanche in the Alps. Together with another scenery painter Joseph Wright of Derby, those masters have become the key figures of moonlight landscapes, which pushed William Turner to put the Fishermen at Sea out.

Fishermen at Sea by J. M. W. Turner 1794 Analysis and Critics

A Portrait of Anthony Pasquin aka John Williams c.1790, depiction of English writer, journalist and satirist by Mather Brown.
Portrait of Anthony Pasquin
by Mather Brown (1790)
Fishermen at Sea has been criticized by English poet and satirist John Williams, also recognized with his pseudonym of Anthony Pasquin. He defines the firstling artwork with his unslaked written expression skills in the book of “The Fine Arts Quarterly Review” regarding in the “Companion” to “The Exhibition of 1796.” He noted: “As a sea-piece this picture is effective. But the light on the sea is too far extended. The colouring is, however, natural and masterly, and the figures, by not being more distinct and determined, suit the obscure perception of objects dimly seen through the gloom of night, partially illumed.” And in the “Critical Guide” he continues regarding the romantic artwork: “We recommend this piece, which hangs in the ante-room, to the consideration of the judicious; it is managed in a manner somewhat novel, yet the principle of the management is just:

Moonlight, a Study at Millbank c.1797, an early oil painting by English romantic J. M. W. Turner from the Exhibition of 1797.
Moonlight, a Study at Millbank
by J. M. W. Turner (1797)
We do not hesitate in affirming that this one of the greatest proofs of an original mind in the present pictorial display; the boats are buoyant and swim well, and the undulation of the element is admirably deceiving.” As valuable literary artist among the British society, William’
s critics used to be accepted praiseworthy. Besides, it’s obvious that he admired J. M. W Turner’s disegno, within a discussion on the pictures of the year in his “Touchstone” to “The Exhibition of 1797” he criticized two of early Turner maritime paintings; “Moonlight, a Study at Millbank” and “Fishermen Coming Ashore at Sunset Previous to a Gale.”

Fishermen Coming Ashore at Sunset Previous to a Gale c.1797, and early maritime painting by English romantic J. M. W. Turner.
Fishermen Coming Ashore at
Sunset Previous to a Gale by
J. M. W. Turner (1797)
It is expressed: “We have no knowledge of Mr. Turner, but through the medium of his works, which assuredly reflect great credit upon his endeavours: the present picture is an undeniable proof of the possesion of genius and judgment. What is uncommon in this age is, that it partakes but very little of the manner of any other master. He seems to view nature and her operations with a peculiar vision, and that singularity of perception is so adroit, that is enables him to give a transparency and undulation to the sea more perfect than is usually seen on canvas. He has a grace and boldness in the disposition of his tints and handling which sweetly deceive the sense. We are inclined to approve him the more, as all our marine painters have too servilely followed the steps of each other, and given us pictures more like japanned tea-boards, with ships and boats on a smooth and glossy surface, than adequate representations of that inconstant, boisterous, and ever-changing element.”

Fishermen at Sea, History of the Landscape and the Needles

Rocks on the South Coast of Wales c.1798 watercolor depiction of The Needles in the Isle of Wight by romantic J. M. W. Turner
Rocks on the South Coast of
Wales by J. M. W. Turner (1798)
Fishermen at Sea was mentioned Edward Bell’s notes through its creation process. Considering the English romantic met mezzotinter and engraver Bell in 1795, George Walter Thornbury, who has written the first biography of J. M. W. Turner and close to friend to him. The vibrating art piece was described as “Turner’s first oil workout overlayered a preliminary crayon sketch, which displays a sunset on the Thames River, close to the Nine Elms Red House, Battersea.” The flustered small fishing boats thrashing and trying to stay balanced on the water surface in a gale off the Needles on the Isle of Wight inside of the English Channel.

Study of Sea and Sky, Isle of Wight c.1827, a maritime landscape painting by British romantic Joseph Mallord William Turner.
Study of Sea and Sky,
Isle of Wight by
J. M. W. Turner (1827)
As one of today’s popular touristic routes the Needles Alum Bay surrounds, are three separate sea stacks of natural chalk stone, which may cause any size of sea vessel foul and break into pieces, however, a few scholarly disputes remain if it could be the Freshwater Bay among same island shelf. According to the 1795 watermarked sketchbook of J. M. W. Turner, which is in the collection of the British Museum as a part of the Turner Bequest, he had visited the Isle of Wight and roamed from its Western part to the Eastern point. Although these texts do not directly relate to the Isle of Wight, Cyfarthfa sketchbook watermarked 1794, includes a watercolor drawing of the island, however, art historian Alexander Joseph Finberg expressed his doubts that the natural scenery painting could not be the Needles rocks, but a depiction of the Oxwich Bay, Gower, regarding Rocks on the South Coast of Wales circa 1798.

The Needles, Isle of Wight c.1824 by French rooted English romantic landscape and marine painter Philip James de Loutherbourg
The Needles, Isle of Wight
by Philip James de
Loutherbourg (1824)
John Gage who has been accepted an authority for J. M. W. Turner paintings, points out a possible inspiration source for the artist’s dependence on creating a scene of an early version of this natural beauty. The British romantic has probably been influenced by Philip de Loutherbourg’s landscape tableau, The Needles, Isle of Wight. Moreover, Picturesque Art and framing a place in most possible visually attractive way, was the scurrying vogue of late 18th Century. The great natural light of the moon straying off dark gray clouds, which brightens middle of the canvas like a big night lamb, contrasts with thin sparks coming out of the red oil lamp. Moonlight, a Study at Millbank, the next year young romantic presented to the taste of the art community, reveals a similar contradiction between a full moon depiction and another self-illuminating gas lamp. Unsurprisingly, early Turner paintings, shows his forte for combining human-made objects and divine celestial bodies.

Fishermen at Sea’s Meaning for the Rise of Maritime Paintings

Shields, on the River Tyne c.1823, maritime landscape by English romantic J. M. W. Turner, watercolor from Rivers of England.
Shields, on the River Tyne
by J. M. W. Turner (1823)
Fishermen at Sea was not only a symbolic masterpiece for romantic painter’s desire for reputation, but also a result of a radical change for the drawing subjects in art institutions of both Britain and Europe. Due to the rise of the first French Empire under the rule of Napoleon Bonaparte, both the status of armadas and footmen gained a vital importance. The Napoleonic Wars have not only consisted of ground wars, but many naval battles too. While the ruling class and bourgeoisies directed their attention to the British royal navy ships, the fine arts society enveloped marine paintings and nautical artists.

Keelmen Heaving in Coals by Moonlight c.1835 by English romantic J. M. W. Turner, depicts a scene of Industrial Revolution.
Keelmen Heaving in Coals by
Moonlight by J. M. W. Turner
Before being called the Painter of Light, J. M. W. Turner created a vast number of prints, oil and watercolor paintings, including neptunian subjects. The collection consisting 17 different maritime art prints was completed between the years 1807 and 1819. The majority of these art prints, mainly prepared using the mezzotint technique, were named under the Book of Studies (in Latin: Liber Studiorum). Alongside the famous romantic artist’s first oil canvas, it encompasses prints of maritime-themed well known oil and watercolor artworks where similar subjects and objects are utilized, such as “Moonlight at Sea,” “Shields, on the River Tyne,” “Temple of Poseidon at Sunion, Cape Colonna,” “A Disaster at Sea,” and “Keelmen Heaving in Coals by Moonlight.” It is known that approximately three-quarters of all William Turner’s most famous paintings etched by the English romantic artist himself or his following collaborative engravers throughout his artistic life consist of sea and marine artworks.

Joseph Mallord William Turner’s Fishermen at Sea, and Romanticism Art

J. M. W. Turner's first oil painting Fishermen at Sea shows a moonlit sky landscape covered with dark clouds above fishermen.
Fishermen at Sea Details of
Moonlit Sky and Dark Clouds
Fishermen at Sea, one of J. M. W. Turner’s most famous paintings, stands as a pinnacle of marine art prints in the Romantic Era. The dark seascape painting encapsulates romantic artist’s signature style, where light and color merge to depict the treacherous waters in a way that only Mother Nature could conjure. The English romantic captures the essence of nature’s raw power, as fishermen battle the tumultuous waves under a moonlit sky. The lantern on the fishing boat becomes a key element, symbolizing both a weak hope and the struggle against the unknown future. Its creator’s ability to infuse the scene with both awe-inspiring beauty and the ominous weight of the elements solidifies his place among the greatest landscape painters.

English Romantic J. M. W. Turner's first oil painting Fishermen at Sea reveals two fishing boats grappling with tough waves.
Fishermen at Sea Details of
Fishing Boats Struggling Waves
The darkened landscape is a prime example of Turner’s artistic qualities, highlighting his mastery of depicting traditional landscapes with an almost supernatural flair. The tableau’s presence in Tate Britain, one of the most prestigious art galleries in the world reflects its timeless appeal and significance in the history of Western art. It’s no wonder that it’s often regarded as one of the best Turner paintings, captivating viewers with its expression of human emotion and the stark contrast between freedom and heroism against the backdrop of the perilous waters.

Self-Portrait of English John Ruskin c.1875, a Victorian Era art critic, writer, philosopher, polymath and visual artist.
Self-Portrait by
John Ruskin (1875)
This work not only showcases his brilliance but also contradicts to the embodiment of the Age of Enlightenment, which hints reason and science, compared to Romantic Movement, where exploration of the natural world paralleled the exploration of human feelings and the spirit. The dark canvas resonates across continents, reminding us of the inseparable bond between humanity and the elements that shape our existence. As a gifted philosopher, writer, polymath, and visual artist, Victorian Era art critic John Ruskin noted; the British romantic’s ability to convey the sublime in nature finds its apex in this very depiction, ensuring its place as one of the most famous landmarks in the world of art. He won this praise by his extraordinary presentations of contemporary art subjects. Each canvas of the famous romantic tells a story of a natural beauty, which can cause a Stendhal Syndrome for the observers.

Fishermen at Sea Painter, J. M. W. Turner

Self-Portrait of English romantic painter Joseph Mallord William Turner c.1799, who is best-known for the Fighting Temeraire.
Self-Portrait by
J. M. W. Turner (1799)
Fishermen at Sea can be seen as an artistic challenge for the young artist. 15-years-old Turner, who began his art career at the Royal Academy of Arts, one of the best art colleges in the world. He continued until the retirement with the title of Professor of Paintings, left behind numerous watercolor and oil paintings throughout his inspiring career. Before the exhibited and accepted as Fishermen at Sea, it is known that he experimented oil colors using the facilities at the academy’s schools, however, the fate of these works remain unknown as they were not marked with an asterisk indicating they belonged to him or included in any exhibition, nor a private collection. Although mastering in light and shadow concerning Baroque Period, which was born in 17th Century Italy, was the fashion of the previous age, it continentally spread over the whole European territory.

The Oath of the Horatii c.1784 at Louvre, a large oil on canvas painting by French Neoclassical artist Jacques-Louis David.
The Oath of the Horatii
by Jacques-Louis David
Several good enough examples, which lightens the characteristic features of the movement, have been given by Caravaggio’s three separate oil canvases of David and Goliath paintings (Madrid, Vienne, Rome). Contrary to the Baroque art, which aims creating drastic portraits based on historical events, or to the characteristics of Neoclassicism presenting more sober colors, and perfection in form and exact drawing; early romantics favored emotions, despairs, feelings, and moods, while adopting and altering the fine art traditions of prior periods. The Romanticism Movement gained momentum in the beginning of 1800s, allured artist mass especially in France and Great Britain, both in literary and visual arts. Considering that almost all acclaimed painters of the period gained fame and recognition with their oil on canvas works, it is quite understandable that the young artist, at the age of 19, decided to train himself with oil coloring to make a good name for himself, and respectively continued his career in that direction.

Fishermen at Sea Painting Style, Dimensions, and Perspective

English romantic artist J. M. W. Turner's oil painting, The Fighting Temeraire, tugged to her last berth to be broken up 1838
The Fighting Temeraire by
J. M. W. Turner (1838)
Fishermen at Sea is a large canvas in sizes of 36 inches to 48.12 inches (approximately 91.44 cm × 122.25 cm). Overwhelming power of nature expressed via rough seas and the dark clouded sky enriched with a beautiful moon painting dramatize the difficult situation, which the fishermen have been stuck in. Turner’s theatrical romantic style allows him to avail of the former methods to create striking maritime scenes through a balanced use of Baroque lighting including a masterwork shadowing technique. The red lantern on the small boat glowing warmer creates an absurd contrast compared to the great presence of the moonlight that illuminates the night.

The Battle of Trafalgar, 21 October 1805 by English Romantic J. M. W. Turner c.1822-1824, related to the Fighting Temeraire.
The Battle of Trafalgar,
21 October 1805 by
J. M. W. Turner
The famous artist adopted this type of painting depicting maritime since his first oil colored tableau, and referenced the sublime power of elemental objects against human recurrently, till the Industrial Revolution, which let machine power began to prevail over the elemental power of nature. Devoted to the British Nation, J. M. W. Turner’s most famous painting, The Fighting Temeraire demonstrates a small steam powered paddle wheel boat towing the once-proud 98-gun HMS Temeraire, which gained her glory in the Battle of Trafalgar 1805 defending Lord Nelson’s Victory against Franco-Spanish naval fleet. The link between his first oil work and one of the lasts, which he called “my darling”, clearly shows how the perspective of the British romantic changed over time. During his youth, he had portrayed the nature as a superior enemy to human beings relying on muscle power, however, with the creation of steam engines, he has painted an artifactitious little steam tug could tow a giant second-rate ship, which had glorious days once during the domination of sailing vessels relying on wind power.

Fishermen at Sea Legacy

Portrait of Sir Henry Charles Englefield, an art collector owned Turner's Fishermen at Sea once, c.1815 by Thomas Phillips.
Portrait of Henry Charles
Englefield by Thomas Phillips
Fishermen at Sea has never been marked one to be sold among the vibrating paintings in the Royal Academy of Arts London, in point of fact, this moon light landscape was already purchased by General Stewart in return of £10 in 1796, when it was exhibited. When the price is adjusted for necessary inflation calculations, it is a financial amount of £1000–2000 for the 2020s. The ancestors of well-known Cholmeley-Fairfax family owned the large canvas in mid 19th Century and kept in their property, till the Tate Gallery of Modern Art acquired it in 1972 through the agency of Thomas Agnew & Sons Ltd. This is how this artwork had a second name as Cholmeley Sea Piece. Moreover, the romantic artwork went through several hands by time before becoming a part of the Tate Gallery’s collection. It
s known that the tableau was originally acquired by an English antiquary and astronomer, Sir Henry Charles Englefield once.

The romantic masterpiece’s intersection with the Christie’s auction house occurred only after Englefield’s death in 1822. In 1823, it was sold under the title of “View of the Needles, with the effect of Moon and Fire Light.” The purchaser of the artwork was Englefield’s nephew, Francis William Alfred Fairfax-Cholmeley. For almost 150 years, the precious canvas remained in the Cholmeley family’s possession and was prominently displayed at Brandsby Hall, eventually earning the name “Cholmeley Sea Piece.” In 1931, the it was regularly loaned to the Tate Gallery, contributing to its growing reputation and visibility among art enthusiasts. Eventually, in 1972, it found its permanent home at the Tate Gallery after being sold to them by Francis Cholmeley. The acquisition was made possible through funding from the Beatrice Lizzie Benson Fund. Its journey from private ownership to public exhibition showcases the enduring appeal and admiration for J. M. W. Turner’s captivating work in the art world. The Fishermen at Sea painting holds historical significance and artistic value, making it a remarkable addition to the Tate Gallery’s renowned collection.
Fishermen at Sea by J. M. W. Turner Fishermen at Sea by J. M. W. Turner Reviewed by Articonog on August 08, 2023 Rating: 5

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