Few artists have been able to portray so much life and meaning within a landscape painting the way J.M.W. Turner has. Looking at just two of his works, The Slave Ship and Fall of the Rhine at Schaffhausen, one can easily see the range and the power of this artist. Turner brings to life these scenes between nature and man in a way that communicates the infinite strength of nature and the frailty of humanity. Although these two particular works show very different moods and make different political statements, both share the vivacity of nature that characterizes all of Turner's works.
Water plays the dominant role in both of these paintings. Turner is able to capture so much movement and strength of the water that it becomes a living character, seemingly about to gush off the painting. The heavy texture and dramatic shading of the water evokes the chaotic and beautiful nature of water, as well as the sheer magnitude of its body. Turners use of abstraction conveys the mysteriousness of the water. It is clearly evident in both of these paintings that humanity is living at the mercy of nature. The camp scene in the Fall of the Rhine at Schaffhausen seems just as fragile as the slave ship shuttering in the storm. Of course the tone of the water is different in these two paintings. In The Slave Ship Turner uses much darker coloring and harsher shading and textures to create a much more sinister character than that of the waterfall.
The Slave Ship is certainly the more political of the two paintings. This scene shows both nature and humanity at their cruelest moment. As the slave ship tosses the dead and dying slaves into the unforgiving ocean, the storm threatens to turn the whole ship over into the violent ocean. The abstract images of bodies in the water create an overall horrific scene. The use of colors is disturbingly dark. The black areas lacing the water evoke the sensation of death where the red tones around the ship remind the viewer of...
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