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This article is taken from PN Review 239, Volume 44 Number 3, January - February 2018.

Pictures from a Library
36: ‘Christmas at Sea’: Mr Turner and the Bell Rock Lighthouse
Stella Halkyard
Engraving after Turner of the Bell rock Lighthouse 1819

                                                                     IMAGE ‘Engraving after Turner of the
                                                                                  Bell Rock Lighthouse’, 1819.
                                                                         (© University of Manchester, 2017)


PHILOSOPHERS OBSERVE that the term ‘Fine Art’ came into use as the eighteenth turned into the nineteenth century. During this period new qualities were felt to pertain in poetry, painting and music. For the first time, the ‘Fine Arts’ were treated as autonomous spiritual realms that were inhabited by a new category of celestial being, namely, the ‘Artist’. The Artist was deemed to be a creature that created masterpieces inspired by his or her refined sensibilities and unique
creative genius.
         – Larry Shiner

In the visual arts Joseph Mallord William Turner perhaps best exemplifies the archetype of the Fine Artist in the Romantic mould. Not only was his work ‘varied and embraced all the genres’, his virtuoso technical ability across media was matched by his prolific output and fertile imagination (Franny Moyle).  Since his death his place within the canon of international art is seen as unassailable. As a Romantic artist, Turner often chose to contrast human achievements with the terrifying power and magnificence of the natural world. Seeking to evoke sensations of astonishment, awe and wonder in the viewer, he consistently returned to one particular subject across the arc of his career, the shipwreck (T.S.E. Boase).

In 1805, for example, Turner produced an oil painting called ‘The Shipwreck’, ‘whose angry spume in which the little ...


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