One immediately feels a sense of calm from this painting, which is a far cry from some of his more aggressive artworks, where man and nature are in direct conflict. There are no bodies in peril here, nor vessels about to be dragged under and lost forever. The sky is relatively clear, and the sea is barely active. Some will immediately prefer this style of Turner, though it clearly lacks the romanticist touches of the wild scenes when out at sea. If anything, it reminds us of the artist's versatility and also how a painting can use much the same content, but give off a very different atmosphere through the different ways of depicting nature. A similar atmosphere can be found in Fighting Temeraire, which remains the artist's most famous painting of all.
This huge painting is overall two metres wide, 92 inches to be precise, and it would have taken the artist a large amount of time to complete, even before you consider all of the study drawings that he no doubt would have produced as preparation for this final piece. The main detail is added to the two vessels nearest us, whilst the harbour behind is then resplendant in visual information, capturing the town, including a church. One can only spot these details from the larger images of this painting, but to see it in person would be a huge treat for those able to get to the Yale Center for British Art. The visit would also offer original paintings from the likes of William Hogarth, Thomas Gainsborough, George Stubbs, John Constable, Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Lawrence.
We believe the artist made a series of drawings in the late summer of the previous year, 1817, before then starting on the painting itself. The harbour is in the town of Dordrecht and is a further reminder to us of the strength of the Dutch maritime scene during this period, as well as its strong influence on Turner's work at this time. In line with most of his career, the artwork was immediately exhibited at the Royal Academy, just as soon as it was completed. It was well received by most critics of the period. Interestingly, it was also greatily admired by John Constable, who mentioned it in several items of correspondence that were uncovered at a later date.
"...I remember most of Turner's early works; amongst them one of singular intricacy and beauty; it was a canal with numerous boats making thousands of beautiful shapes, and I think the most complete work of a genius I ever saw..."