Slave Ship Analysis

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Slave Ship Karl Volkmar Western Governors University Slave Ship Slave Ship was painted by J.M.W. Turner in the year 1840. At first glance, the sky and the ship in the background stood out to me above all else. The intensity of the brushstrokes and the colors of the sunlight set the stage for the powerful scene in the water. Between the strong waves in the water and the hands reaching out in desperation, this painting truly captures the horrors of the ships used to transport slaves. One aspect of this painting that I find quite interesting is the sky. The way the sunlight seems to shine through a thin layer of clouds adds to the intensity of the scene by illuminating the sky with the eerie colors of dusk, which set the tone of the…show more content…
Many believe that Turner’s inspiration for Slave Ship came from the story of a ship called the Zong from a book which Turner owned. The captain of the Zong allegedly threw the sick and dying “human cargo” overboard to drown due to a lack of drinkable water onboard. The captain then demanded insurance money for the lost cargo, as they were insured if the slaves drowned but not if they died from disease (Shanes, 2012). Turner’s Slave Ship is a great example of art from the Romantic period. His use of powerful imagery and intensity conveys the passion and emotion involved in many works of this period. The scene in the water embodies his use of “dramatic action,” another prominent theme in the art of the Romantic period. By combining the atrocities of slave trade with the impending typhoon rolling towards the ship, Turner managed to create a scene which invokes a vast range of emotions about mankind and nature. I believe Turner’s criticism of slave trade is characteristic of the idea of Individualism in the Romantic period, while the open ocean and approaching storm signify the power of nature. The relevance of this great painting lies in the imagery of slave trade. Turner provided his audiences with an example of the grueling horrors involved in a cruel and barbaric form of commerce. While Slave Ship failed to make a significant impression on Americans when first shown in New York City in 1876, it did manage to stir up great controversy when it was later
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