Mr. Turner – The Battle With Light & Colour

Turner - Self Portrait

Self portrait, circa 1799

One of England’s finest painters, a Londoner, one of the most widely travelled Georgians and a grunting almost incomprehensible genius – Joseph Mallord William Turner lived for most of his life in Chelsea at what is now 119 Cheyne Walk. He was born in the same year as Jane Austen and died in the year of the Great Exhibition.

Turner’s travelling was extensive and difficult. His tours of Europe took energy and vigour, all very necessary for him to find the right light, landscapes, mountains or sunsets. He also travelled extensively across the British Isles to source material, study the landscape or to undertake patronage at great Stately homes like Petworth House and Farnley Hall.

Turner first visited Waterloo in 1817 on a tour of the continent before going on to the Rhineland and Amsterdam. Taking advantage of the fall of Napoleon and the new freedom of travel, Turner arrived on Saturday 16th August.


The Battle of Waterloo saw the British defeat of the French in 1815 after the long years of war from 1793.  Turner painted the battlefield, not in a celebration of victory but in a pessimistic, anti-war stance.

The Field of Waterloo exhibited 1818 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851

The Field of Waterloo exhibited 1818

“The Field of Waterloo,” influenced by Rembrandt’s work was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1818 and is now in the Tate.

In our watercolour,”The Field of Waterloo, seen off Hougoumont” (pictured, top), the bodies of the dead still lie on the ground. Horses and men are jumbled together in death. The uniforms are scarlet and blue, the blood deep red. 40,000 men died in 9 hours. The worst carnage on European soil to that date.


Survivors search in the darkened scene as loss and suffering, the human cost, rather than the glory of victory are portrayed by Turner. The farmhouse of Hougoumont still burns fiercely, having stood as a bastion against the French attacks. The buildings and the dead are overshadowed by the enormous storm in the sky. A natural echo of the human violence which occurred below. The Earth is flat and lifeless whilst the sky full of movement, flashing with lightening and swirling cloud looks like a Biblical tempest; a Day of Wrath.

Joseph was badly affected by the death of his father in 1829. William Turner had been Joseph’s confidant, assistant and friend. His father was buried in St. Paul’s church, Covent Garden where his parents had been married and Joseph baptised. “Turner never appeared the same man after his father’s death; his family was broken up.”

The 1830’s and ’40’s were unhappy years, he was passed over for a Knighthood, his despair at the thought of dying increased, he took to drink and hoarded prints and engravings of his work. He made trips to Switzerland in the early 1840’s.  After his last exhibition at the RA he was physically ill, the last three canvases he painted are in the current Tate show.

On his death in December 1851, 2,000 paintings and watercolours were in private hands, 19,000 drawings and sketches and 282 finished and unfinished oil paintings were left in his studio.

Come and see our watercolour in the gallery or online

Find out more by watching “Mr. Turner” at cinemas from October 31.

Visit Tate Britain for “Late Turner-Painting Set Free” until January 25 2015.

Photo’s via Tate Britain 


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