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Joseph Mallord William Turner, Ulysses deriding Polyphemus - Homer's Odyssey

Key facts
Full title Ulysses deriding Polyphemus - Homer's Odyssey
Artist Joseph Mallord William Turner
Artist dates 1775 - 1851
Date made 1829
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 132.5 × 203 cm
Acquisition credit Turner Bequest, 1856
Inventory number NG508
Location Room 34
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
Ulysses deriding Polyphemus - Homer's Odyssey
Joseph Mallord William Turner

The subject of this painting is taken from Book IX of Homer’s Odyssey. It shows Ulysses sailing from the island where Polyphemus, a one-eyed giant, had held him and his men captive. Wearing a helmet and a scarlet cloak, Ulysses raises his arms in victory as he stands on the deck of his ship, below a red banner, looking back at the island. He lifts the flaming torch with which he blinded Polyphemus, whose huge shadowy body lies sprawled across the clifftop that towers above. Luminous sea nymphs and flying fish gather at the ship’s prow as a blazing sun rises through the morning mists.

The painting signals the increasing role of colour and light in Turner’s historical landscapes. It also marks the increasingly expressive direction his painting was to follow and anticipates the visionary qualities of his late work. Writing in 1856, the English art critic John Ruskin declared it to be ‘the central picture of Turner’s career'.

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