Who, as a child in England, doesn’t remember being ushered into an impossibly darkened gallery to view the paintings of J.M.W. Turner? That viscerally despondent feeling that perhaps our very breath might destroy the delicate miracle unfolded upon the paper or the canvas. Saddled with the monicker of, “romantic landscape painter” Turner was in fact so much more. The son of a barber and wig maker with a mother from a family of butchers, made him a true working-class son. Admitted to the Royal Academy of Art in 1789 at the tender age of 14 he produced his first water colour a year later for the Summer Exhibition.
The independence such early recognition gave Turner, coupled with the financial freedom it brought him, allowed the young artist the license to experiment and dabble. Water colours, oils and print were the mediums he chose to express his outstanding visions of light but he did more than just capture the right moment. Many of his paintings cast a distinct narrative such as this emotive piece, The Slave Ship or Slavers Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying. Surely that broiling sea and that blood red sunset in reflection speaks to us even today of the barbarous practices of slavery and the pact made with the devil of that evil trade.