Joseph Mallord William Turner, <em>The Battle of Trafalgar, as Seen from the Mizen Starboard Shrouds of the Victory</em>, 1806-1808, Tate, Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856 | Courtesy of Tate London
In what ways did the ferment of change, with the passage from sail to motor, from handicraft to mechanisation, along with wars and social unrest, leave its trace on the paintings of Turner? This is the story behind a new exhibition at the Tate, exploring the fascination of the painter regarding industry and infrastructure, the new elements of Britain’s landscape, starting in 1790, when Turner turned his talents to work on contemporary life as a young painter. The itinerary includes 160 key works, paintings and drawings, which show the turbulent times in Great Britain but not only, including the struggles for independence throughout the world, the arrival of finance capitalism, the French revolutionary and Napoleonic wars. The artist sought to immortalise a fragment of history in The Battle of Trafalgar (1806-1808) and in Field of Waterloo (1818), without ignoring other aspects of life and work in Great Britain, before, during and after the conflict which is portrayed to the public through several personal memories of war, the reflections of Nelson, Wellington and Napoleon, as well as soldiers and civilians. Turner’s ideas about social reforms, his changing attitudes towards politics, his ideas on work and slavery, all of these accompany masterworks, such as The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons from 1835, showing his interest towards contemporary political events. Also on display, A Disaster at Sea (1835) and Wreck of a Transport Ship (1801), ambitious depictions of maritime catastrophes.