Voyage of The Slave Ship

J.M.W. Turner’s Masterpiece in Historical Context

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About the Book

Set against the backdrop of the Atlantic slave trade, this book traces the development, exhibition and final disposition of one of J.M.W. Turner’s greatest and most memorable paintings. Queen Victoria’s reign (1837–1901) in Great Britain produced unprecedented wealth and luxury. For artists and writers this period was particularly noteworthy in that it gave them the opportunity to both praise their country and criticize its overreaching ambition. At the forefront of these artists and writers were men like J.M.W. Turner, Dickens, Thackeray, Tennyson, and John Ruskin, who created some of the most enduring works of art while exposing many of the social evils of their native land.
The book also analyzes the man behind the painting. Aloof, gruff and mysterious, Turner resisted success. He worked as a solitary artist, traveling to Europe, sketching towns along the way, studying nature, and transferring his experiences to finished paintings upon his return to London. The son of a barber, he grew up in London and experienced many of the social issues of the age: slavery and freedom, poverty in the slums, monarchy and democracy, stability and anarchy. He was a poet of nature and its innumerable mysteries.

About the Author(s)

A former university professor, Stephen J. May is now an independent arts historian and biographer. The author of seven other books and many journal articles, he also serves as a guest curator at leading art institutions. He lives in Sedona, Arizona.

Bibliographic Details

Stephen J. May
Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 216
Bibliographic Info: 18 photos (7 in color), notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2014
pISBN: 978-0-7864-7989-4
eISBN: 978-1-4766-1550-9
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Table of Contents


Preface 1

Introduction 5

Chronology 7

One. Painter of Light, Creature of Darkness 11

Two. The Middle Passage 25

Three. Clarkson’s Long Ride 52

Four. Painting, Poetry and Politics: 1807–1830 70

Between pages 92 and 93 are 4 plates containing 7 reproductions

Five. Water Water Everywhere 93

Six. The Poetry of Devastation 106

Seven. Mr. Ruskin Intervenes 128

Eight. The Way to America 156

Nine. Epilogue 186

Chapter Notes 195

Select Bibliography 201

Index 203

Book Reviews & Awards

“an excellent biography of a complex, influential, British artist and a pleasurably satisfying read”—The Northern Mariner; “May’s fascinating study challenges us to consider the impact and value of the fine arts in our appreciation of maritime heritage”—Sea History; “May does an exceedingly thorough job of explaining and examining everyone who had any influence on the fate of the paining”—Nautical Research Journal.