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The Fighting Temeraire tugged to her Last Berth to be broken up, 1838

Image credit: The National Gallery, London

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Turner’s painting shows the final journey of the Temeraire, as the ship is towed from Sheerness in Kent along the river Thames to Rotherhithe in south-east London, where it was to be scrapped. The veteran warship had played a distinguished role in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, but by 1838 was over 40 years old and had been sold off by the Admiralty. When exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1839, the painting was accompanied by lines Turner had adapted from Thomas Campbell’s poem, Ye Mariners of England: ‘The flag which braved the battle and the breeze, / No longer owns her.’

It is unlikely that Turner witnessed the ship being towed; instead, he imaginatively recreated the scene using contemporary reports. Set against a blazing sunset, the last voyage of the Temeraire takes on a greater symbolic meaning, as the age of sail gives way to the age of steam.

The National Gallery, London

London

Title

The Fighting Temeraire tugged to her Last Berth to be broken up, 1838

Date

1839

Medium

Oil on canvas

Measurements

H 90.7 x W 121.6 cm

Accession number

NG524

Acquisition method

Turner Bequest, 1856

Work type

Painting

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The National Gallery, London

Trafalgar Square, London, Greater London WC2N 5DN England

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