"The flag which braved the battle and the breeze
No longer owns her."

Exhibited at the Academy in 1839, with the above lines cited in the Catalogue. Of all Turner's pictures in the National Gallery this is perhaps the most notable. For, first it is the last picture he ever painted withperfect power—the last in which his execution is as firm and faultless as in middle life; the last in which lines requiring exquisite precision, such as those of the masts and yards of shipping, are drawn rightly at once. When he painted the Téméraire Turner could, if he liked, have painted the Shipwreck or the Ulysses over again; but when he painted the Sun of Venice, though he was able to do different, and in some sort more beautiful things, he could not have done those again. His period of central power thus begins with the Ulysses and closes with the Téméraire. The one picture, it will be observed, is of sunrise, the other of sunset. The one of a ship entering on its voyage, and the other of a ship closing its course for ever. The one, in all the circumstance of the subject, unconsciously illustrative of his own life in its triumph, the other, in all the circumstances of its subject, unconsciously illustrative of his own life in its decline. Accurately as the first sets forth his escape to the wild brightness of nature, to reign amidst all her happy spirits, so does the last set forth his returning to die by the shore of the Thames. And besides having been painted in Turner's full power, the Téméraire is of all his large pictures the best preserved. Secondly, the subject of the picture is, both particularly and generally, the noblest that in an English National Gallery could be. The Téméraire was the second ship in Nelson's line at the Battle of Trafalgar; and this picture is the last of the group which Turner painted to illustrate that central struggle in our national history. The part played by the Téméraire in the battle will be found detailed below. And, generally, she is a type of one of England's chief glories. It will be always said of us, with unabated reverence, "They built ships of the line." Take it all in all, a Ship of the Line is the most honourable thing that man as a gregarious animal, has ever produced. By himself, unhelped, he can do better things than ships of the line; he can make poems and pictures, and other such concentrations of what is best in him. But as a being living in flocks, and hammering out, with alternate strokes and mutual agreement, what is necessary for him in those flocks, to get or produce, the ship of the line is his first work. And as the subject was the noblest Turner could have chosen so also was his treatment of it. Of all pictures of subjects not visibly involving human pain, this is, I believe, the most pathetic that was ever painted. The utmost pensiveness which can ordinarily be given to a landscape depends on adjuncts of ruin; but no ruin was ever so affecting as this gliding of the vessel to her grave. A ruin cannot be so, for whatever memories may be connected with it, and whatever witness it may have borne to the courage and glory of men, it never seems to have offered itself to their danger, and associated itself with their acts, as a ship of battle can. The mere facts of motion, and obedience to human guidance, double the interest of the vessel: nor less her organized perfectness, giving her the look, and partly the character of a living creature, that may indeed be maimed in limb or decrepit in frame, but must either live or die, and cannot be added to nor diminished from—heaped up and dragged down—as a building can. And this particular ship, crowned in the Trafalgar hour of trial with chief victory—prevailing over the fatal vessel that had given Nelson death—surely, if ever anything without a soul deserved honour or affection, we owed them here. Those sails that strained so full bent into the battle—that broad bow that struck the surf aside, enlarging silently in steadfast haste full front to the shot—resistless and without reply—those triple ports whose choirs of flame rang forth in their courses, into the fierce revenging monotone, which, when it died away, left no answering voice to rise any more upon the sea against the strength of England—those sides that were wet with the long runlets of English life-blood, like press planks at vintage, gleaming goodly crimson down to the cast and clash of the washing foam—those pale masts that stayed themselves up against the war-ruin, shaking out their ensigns through the thunder, till sail and ensign drooped—steeped in the death-stilled pause of Andalusian air, burning with its witness-clouds of human souls at rest,—surely, for these some sacred care might have been left in our thoughts, some quiet space amidst the lapse of English waters? Nay, not so. We have stern keepers to trust her glory to—the fire and the worm. Never more shall sunset lay golden robe on her, nor starlight tremble on the waves that part at her gliding. Perhaps, where the low gate opens to some cottage-garden, the tired traveller may ask, idly, why the moss grows so green on its rugged wood; and even the sailor's child may not answer, nor know, that the night-dew lies deep in the war-rents of the wood of the old Téméraire. And, lastly, the pathos of the picture—the contrast of the old ship's past glory with her present end; and the spectacle of the "old order" of the ship of the line whose flag had braved the battle and the breeze, yielding place to the new, in the little steam-tug—these pathetic contrasts are repeated and enforced by a technical tour de force in the treatment of the colours which is without a parallel in art. And the picture itself thus combines the evidences of Turner's supremacy alike in imagination and in skill. The old masters, content with one simple tone, sacrificed to its unity all the exquisite gradations and varied touches of relief and change by which nature unites her hours with each other. They gave the warmth of the sinking sun, overwhelming all things in its gold, but they did not give those gray passages about the horizon, where, seen through its dying light, the cool and the gloom of night gather themselves for their victory.... But in this picture, under the blazing veil of vaulted fire, which lights the vessel on her last path, there is a blue, deep, desolate hollow of darkness out of which you can hear the voice of the night wind, and the dull boom of the disturbed sea; the cold deadly shadows of the twilight are gathering through every sunbeam, and moment by moment, as you look, you will fancy some new film and faintness of the night has risen over the vastness of the departing form. (Compiled from Modern Painters, Vol. I. pt. ii. Sec. I. ch. vii. § 46 n., Sec. II. ch i. § 21; Harbours of England, p. 12; and Notes on the Turner Gallery, pp. 75-80.)

The Fighting Téméraire. Turner.

The Fighting Téméraire.

Finally a few words about the history of the picture itself may be interesting. The subject of it was suggested to Turner by Clarkson Stanfield (who himself, it will be remembered, had painted a Battle of Trafalgar). They were going down the river by boat, to dine, perhaps, at Greenwich, when the old ship, being tugged to her last berth at Deptford, came in sight. "There's a fine subject, Turner," said Stanfield. This was in 1838. Next year the picture was exhibited at the Academy, but no price was put upon it. A would-be purchaser offered Turner 300 guineas for it. He replied that it was his "200 guinea size" only, and offered to take a commission at that price for any subject of the same size, but with the Téméraire itself he would not part. Another offer was subsequently made from America, which again Turner declined. He had already mentally included the picture, it would seem, amongst those to be bequeathed to the nation; and in one of the codicils to his will, in which he left each of his executors a picture to be chosen by them in turn, the Téméraire was specially excepted from the pictures they might choose.30

Edward T. Cook, A Popular Handbook to the National Gallery.


30 Mr. W. Hale White recently drew up for Mr. Ruskin, from official records, the following history of the Téméraire. To him and to Mr. Ruskin I am indebted for permission to insert the history here. It will be seen that Turner was right in calling his picture the Fighting Téméraire and the critic who induced him to change the title in the engraving to the Old Téméraire wrong:—

"The Téméraire, second-rate, ninety-eight guns, was begun at Chatham, July, 1793, and launched on the 11th September, 1798. She was named after an older Téméraire taken by Admiral Boscawen from the French in 1759, and sold in June, 1784. The Chatham Téméraire was fitted at Plymouth for a prison ship in 1812, and in 1819 she became a receiving ship and was sent to Sheerness. She was sold on the 16th August, 1838, to Mr. J. Beatson for £5,530. The Téméraire was at the Battle of Trafalgar on the 21st October, 1805. She was next to the Victory, and followed Nelson into action; commanded by Captain Elias Harvey, with Thomas Kennedy as first lieutenant. Her maintopmast, the head of her mizzenmast, her foreyard, her starboard, cathead and bumpkin, and her fore and main topsail yards were shot away; her fore and main masts so wounded as to render them unfit to carry sail, and her bowsprit shot through in several places. Her rigging of every sort was cut to pieces; the head of her rudder was taken off by the fire of the Redoutable; eight feet of the starboard side of the lower deck abreast of the mainmast were stove in, and the whole of her quarter-galleries on both sides carried away. Forty-six men on board of her were killed, and seventy-six wounded.... The Téméraire was built with a beakhead, or, in other words, her upper works were cut off across the catheads; a peculiarity which can be observed in Turner's picture. It was found by experience in the early part of the French war that this mode of construction exposed the men working the guns to the enemy's fire, and it was afterwards abandoned. It has been objected," adds Mr. White, "that the masts and yards in the picture are too light for a ninety-eight gun ship; but the truth is that when the vessel was sold she was juryrigged as a receiving ship, and Turner, therefore, was strictly accurate. He might have seemed more accurate by putting heavier masts and yards in her; but he painted her as he saw her. This is very important, as it gets rid of the difficulty which I myself have felt and expressed, that it was very improbable that she was sold all standing in sea-going trim, as I imagined Turner intended us to believe she was sold, and answers also the criticism just mentioned as to the disproportion between the weight of the masts and yards and the size of the hull." Part of the Téméraire, Mr. White tells me, is still in existence. Messrs. Castle, the shipbuilders of Millbank, have the two figures of Atlas which supported the sterngallery.