Thursday, July 26, 2007
Monday night's PBS program, based on Simon Schama's The Power of Art, explored the dark side of some of Turner's paintings, which are generally recognized for their luminous light and expressive color and brushwork. In the painting "The Slave Ship" Turner has used his amazing skill with color and light to compel the viewer to take a closer look. As your eyes take in the glory of the light and the power of the mighty waves, you suddenly become aware of the horror of the scene. More than 130 ill or dying slaves being carried from Africa to north America have been thrown to the sharks and their agony is horribly depicted in the foreground. The actual event took place many years before and England had already taken action against the slave trade, but Turner's painting raised public awareness of the enormity of slavery, which still existed in many places in the world, including the United States. Schama described The Slave Ship as the most important painting of the nineteenth century, certainly a work that illustrates the power of art. I've seen the painting several times and it's awesome.