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Turner’s ‘The Fighting Temeraire’

A Sense of Modernity and Old Master Tradition

Director of Collections and Research Christine Riding explores ‘The Fighting Temeraire’ by Turner, in 10 minutes.

  • 10-minute film
  • Watch on demand, for free
  • Available only to Members

Experience the National Gallery's collection like never before with our new exclusive 'National Treasures' film series. A key strand of the National Gallery's Bicentenary celebrations, we will discover 12 paintings which will be loaned from the Gallery's collection to partner venues throughout the UK, providing expert commentary on these iconic masterpieces.

'The Fighting Temeraire' (1839) by Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851) is one of the nation’s most beloved paintings, capturing the moment that HMS Temeraire was towed up the Thames to Rotherhithe to be broken up, in the 19th century. But what did this symbolise to the British people at the time? And how does Turner use his unrivalled skill as a landscape artist to capture the moment? Christine Riding, Director of Collections and Research, shares her thoughts on why this is such an important work.

Find out more about the history of the HMS Temeraire through Turner’s brushstrokes. How does the painting depict both the victory and the sacrifice of the Battle of Trafalgar? And how does a ghostly ship on the Thames against a blood-red sunset capture the mood of a nation?

The painting was voted the nation's favourite in a BBC poll in 2005, and whilst crowds flock to see this work today, it was also a crowd pleaser in the 19th century. But just what is it that has made this work such a hit across the centuries?

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Christine Riding

Christine Riding is the Director of Collections and Research at the National Gallery. Before joining the Gallery, she was Head of Arts and Curator of the Queen's House at Royal Museums Greenwich (2011–18), where she curated the 'Turner and the Sea' exhibition (2013). From 1999 to 2011, she was Curator of 18th- and 19th-Century British Art at Tate.

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