Turner was seventy years old when Whalers debuted to mixed reviews at the Royal Academy exhibition of 1845. Its subject proved elusive, as the English novelist William Thackeray observed: "That is not a smear of purple you see yonder, but a beautiful whale, whose tail has just slapped a half-dozen whale-boats into perdition; and as for what you fancied to be a few zig-zag lines spattered on the canvas at hap-hazard, look! they turn out to be a ship with all her sails." Apparently Turner undertook the painting—which was returned to him—for the collector Elhanan Bicknell, who had made his fortune in the whale-oil business.
This picture is one of four whaling subjects by Turner; the other three form part of the artist's bequest at Tate Britain, London. The Met's painting and another of the same title were shown at the Royal Academy in 1845, receiving a mixed reception. The third and fourth in the series—"Hurrah! for the Whaler Erebus! Another Fish!" and Whalers (Boiling Blubber) Entangled in Flaw Ice, Endeavouring to Extricate Themselves—were exhibited the following year.
Turner’s principal literary source was Thomas Beale’s Natural History of the Sperm Whale, published in London in 1835 and in an expanded edition in 1839. Elhanan Bicknell, the first owner of The Met's painting, had made his fortune as a director of Langton and Bicknell, oil merchants of Newington Butts, whose financial interest was in ships of the Pacific sperm-whale fishery. He subscribed for four copies of Beale's book, and may have given or lent one to Turner, whose patron he already was. The artist subtitled his 1845 exhibits "Vide Beale’s Voyage," referring to page 163 for the Tate’s picture and page 175 for the Met's work. For his depiction of the whale, which is clearly visible only in this canvas, Turner consulted wood engravings by William James Linton and after William Huggins that illustrate Beale’s book. Bicknell’s firm also owned a canvas by Huggins (private collection, United Kingdom), painted about 1835, that Turner must have used as a source for details in this picture and its companion.
There are related watercolors on nine pages of Turner’s undated Whalers Sketchbook in the Tate (Finberg no. CCCLIII, fols. 6–14) and a separate sheet with a whaling subject is at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge (PD.116-1950). While the watercolors are as evocative as the painting, none is closely related in thematic material, and all may in any event be later. In the 1840s, few people in England knew what a sperm whale looked like. Turner may never have seen one and, using the descriptions and illustrations that were available to him, he created these works in part from his imagination, bringing to bear many years’ observation of the seas in the Channel and elsewhere along the English coast.
In April 1850, a few months after returning to New York from his first visit to London, Herman Melville ordered a copy of Beale's Natural History of the Sperm Whale. On the title page, Melville wrote, "Turner’s pictures of whalers were suggested by this book", thus documenting that he knew of Turner’s paintings, even though he may never have seen them, and that he drew on Beale, as well as his own experience as a sailor and harpooner, when writing Moby-Dick, published in 1851. As Wallace (1985) has suggested, Melville may have had Whalers in mind while describing a picture hanging in the Spouter-Inn in chapter three of Moby-Dick.
The painting, acquired by the Museum in 1896, was relined and cleaned in 1933, and treated again in 1968. The surface is flattened. The ship is considerably abraded, but some of the rigging can still be read. The best-preserved passages are the small boats and figures, the head of the whale, and the dark, choppy surrounding sea. Turner changed the contours of the whale’s nose, gradually widening and enlarging the shape. Examination under the microscope reveals the remnants of scumbles associated with the darkest gray pigment that may originally have subdued the contrast between this pigment and the surrounding areas.
[2012; adapted from Baetjer 2009]
Elhanan Bicknell, Herne Hill, Dulwich, Surrey (in 1845); Joseph Hogarth, London (until 1851; Royal Gallery of British Art sale, Christie's, London, June 13, 1851, no. 48, as "The Whaler: 'Hurrah for the whaler Erebus, another fish.' 'Beale's Voyage'", for £299 to Gambart); [Gambart, London, from 1851; probably sold to Miller]; John Miller, Liverpool (by 1858–67; his sale, Christie's, London, May 22, 1858, no. 247, as "The Whale Ship", for £367.10.0 to Gambart for Miller; sold to Agnew); [Agnew, London, 1867; sold for £1,890 to Graham]; John Graham, Skelmorlie Castle, Ayrshire (1867; sold to Agnew); [Agnew, London, 1867–68; sold to Leyland]; Frederick Richard Leyland, Liverpool (1868–74; his sale, Christie's, London, June 13, 1874, no. 115, as "The Whale Ship", for £960.15.0, bought in); Thomas Woolner, London (in 1875; his sale, Christie's, London, June 12, 1875, no. 132, as "Whalers", for £325.10.0 to Ellis, bought in); Charles Cooper, London (until 1883; sale, Christie's, London, April 21, 1883, no. 151, as "The Whale Ship", for £945 to Vokins); [Vokins, London, 1883; sold for about £1,500 to Haden]; Sir Francis Seymour Haden, Woodcote Manor, Alresford, Hampshire (1883–96; sale, Christie's, London, May 23, 1891, no. 110, for £945 to Wilson, bought in; sold to The Met)
London. Royal Academy. May 5–July 26, 1845, no. 77 (as "Whalers—'Vide Beale's Voyage,' p. 175").
London. Royal Academy of Arts. "Winter Exhibition," January–March 1892, no. 19 (as "The Whale-Ship," lent by F. Seymour Haden).
New York. American Federation of Arts. "English Portraits and Landscapes (circulating exhibition)," 1951–52.
Indianapolis. John Herron Art Museum. "Turner in America," November 12–December 25, 1955, no. 49.
London. Royal Academy of Arts. "Bicentenary Exhibition," December 14, 1968–March 2, 1969, no. 164.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Impressionist Epoch," December 12, 1974–February 10, 1975, not in catalogue.
Leningrad [St. Petersburg]. State Hermitage Museum. "100 Paintings from the Metropolitan Museum," May 22–July 27, 1975, no. 45.
Moscow. State Pushkin Museum. "100 Paintings from the Metropolitan Museum," August 28–November 2, 1975, no. 45.
Williamstown, Mass. Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute. "Turner: The Late Seascapes," June 14–September 7, 2003, unnumbered cat. (fig. 56).
Manchester Art Gallery. "Turner: The Late Seascapes," October 31, 2003–January 25, 2004, unnumbered cat. (fig. 56).
Glasgow. Glasgow City Council, Burrell Collection. "Turner: The Late Seascapes," February 19–May 23, 2004, unnumbered cat. (fig. 56).
Washington. National Gallery of Art. "J. M. W. Turner," October 1, 2007–January 6, 2008, no. 144 (as "Whalers [The Whale Ship]").
Dallas Museum of Art. "J. M. W. Turner," February 10–May 18, 2008, no. 144 (as "Whalers [The Whale Ship]").
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "J. M. W. Turner," June 24–September 21, 2008, no. 144 (as "Whalers [The Whale Ship]").
Greenwich, London. National Maritime Museum. "Turner and the Sea," November 22, 2013–April 21, 2014, no. 139.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Turner's Whaling Pictures," May 10–August 7, 2016, unnumbered cat. (fig. 5).
Fort Worth. Kimbell Art Museum. "Turner's Modern World," October 17, 2021–February 6, 2022, unnumbered cat.
Boston. Museum of Fine Arts. "Turner's Modern World," March 27–July 10, 2022, unnumbered cat.
J. M. W. Turner. Letter to Elhanan Bicknell. January 31, 1845 [see Refs. Armstrong 1902 and Butlin and Joll 1977], writes that "I have a whale or two on canvas".
"Royal Academy." The Times (May 6, 1845), p. 6, observes "J.M.W. Turner … has found a new field for his peculiar style in the whale fishery ('Whalers' 50 and 77). The greater portion of the picture is one mass of white spray, which so blends with the white clouds of the sky, that the spectator can hardly separate them, while the whiteness is still continued by the sails of the ship, which are placed in defiance of contrast. The boats and boatmen are slightly indicated amid the confusion, while the whale is a large dark lump. It is not to be expected that Turner will gain any new admirers by these eccentric productions; but those who are inclined to admire him, will find enough to wonder at his free, vigorous, fearless embodiment of the effect of a moment. To do justice to Turner, it should always be remembered that he is the painter, not of reflections, but of immediate sensations".
"Royal Academy Exhibition." Morning Chronicle (May 7, 1845), p. 4, writes, "The two larger works in the great room (Nos. 50 and 77) represent two scenes of adventure in whale fishing, the one when the huge black monster is first attacked, the other when, lashing and writhing in agony, he has nearly upset the small fleet of boats which have come to molest him. The prevailing tone of both is cold, the atmosphere white and indefinite, and the square white sails of the whaler standing out against the colourless sky. The only warmth in either picture is produced by the red clothing of the sailors in the boats, a selection of colour which, on a close inspection, seems so obviously inconsistent with their vocation, that the spectator is tempted to cry 'how absurd,' and to walk away from the spot. But when he has got away some three yards, if he look back he will be astonished to find how these red tints become mellowed in their general effect, and how other rough patches of superfices seem to have melted into thin transparent air, and how in fact, by a wonderful combination of materials all his own, Mr. Turner has produced extraordinary aerial effects".
"Fine Arts: Royal Academy Exhibition." The Spectator (May 10, 1845), p. 450, praises "two of Turner’s tumultuous surges: Whalers – all light, spray, and clouds; beautiful as harmonies of colour; depicting the peril and excitement of Whale-fishing, in a vague, imaginative manner".
"Fine Arts: Royal Academy." Literary Gazette (May 17, 1845), p. 314, writes "We do not think any one but himself could have painted that phantom-ship, which, in compliment to an enormous fish (which might have entombed Jonah in a high-vaulted interior), he has called a “Whaler.” It is a vision and unreality; but the handling of the tints, and their harmony, allowing for the exalted pitch of their prismatic brightness, are astonishing. Splintered rainbows thrown against the canvass is a better comparison than the deteriorating one of lobster-sauce, which some crusty critic has applied as an accompaniment to the Leviathan. There are atmospheric effects of magical talent; but after all, we would rather possess one of Mr. Turner’s earlier works, when he did not think of subliming truth, than three of the most brilliant of these imaginations, created with all his mastery of art".
"Fine Arts: Third Notice of the Royal Academy Exhibition. Landscape and Sea Pieces." The Spectator (May 24, 1845), p. 498, writes "In the Great Room are two pair of sea-pieces by Turner: two views of Venice seen under the brightest effects of morning and evening sun that can be conceived of an Italian sky; and two scenes of whalers, in which the hues of light are of such prismatic brilliancy, that the sailors are painted of the same bright orange colour that the palaces and gondolas of Venice are decked in. As light is light all the world over, there may be times when the Northern seas welter in a flood of radiance as dazzling as that which pours down from a Southern sky; but such is not their most characteristic effect. … Turner, however, is a 'chartered libertine' in respect of local truth: he paints the elements; and the forms and hues of objects are nought in his estimation but vehicles for representing dazzling effects of light, space, and colour".
"A Scamper through the Exhibition of the Royal Academy." Punch (May 31, 1845), p. 233, remarks "No. 77 is called 'Whalers,' by J.M.W. TURNER, R.A., and embodies one of those singular effects which are only met with in lobster salads, and in this artist’s pictures. Whether he calls his picture 'Whalers,' or 'Venice,' or 'Morning,' or 'Noon,' or 'Night,' it is all the same; for it is quite easy to fancy it one thing as another".
Michel Angelo Titmarsh [William Makepeace Thackeray]. "Picture Gossip." Fraser's Magazine (June 1845), pp. 720–21, writes "[Turner] is as great as usual, vibrating between the absurd and the sublime, until the eye grows dazzled in watching him, and can’t really tell in what region he is. If Etty’s colour is wild and mysterious, looking here as if smeared with the finger, and there with the palette-knife, what can be said about Turner? Go up and look at one of his pictures, and you laugh at yourself and at him, and at the picture, and that wonderful amateur who is invariably found to give a thousand pounds for it, or more—some sum wild, prodigious, unheard-of, monstrous, like the picture itself. All about [Turner] is a mysterious extravaganza; price, poem, purchaser, picture. Look at the latter for a little time, and it begins to affect you too,—to mesmerize you. It is revealed to you; and, as it is said in the East, the magicians make children see the sultana, carpet-bearers, tents, &c., in a spot of ink in their hands; so the magician, Joseph Mallard [sic], makes you see what he likes on a board, that to the first view is merely dabbed over with occasionally [sic] streaks of yellow, and flecked here and there with vermilion. The vermilion blotches become little boats full of harpooners and gondolas, with a deal of music going on on board. That is not a smear of purple you see yonder, but a beautiful whale, whose tail has just slapped a half-dozen whale-boats into perdition; and as for what you fancied to be a few zig-zig lines spattered on the canvass at haphazard, look! they turn out to be a ship with all her sails; the captain and his crew are clearly visible in the ship’s bows; and you may distinctly see the oil-casks getting ready under the superintendence of that man with the red whiskers and the cast in his eye; who is, of course, the chief mate. In a word, I say that Turner is a great and awful mystery to me"
John James Ruskin. Letter to John Ruskin. September 19, 1845 [see Ref. Shapiro 1972], writes that "[Bicknell] found Water Colour in Whalers [probably this picture] & rubbed out some with Handky. He went to Turner who looked Daggers & refused to do anything, but at last he has taken it back to alter. Roberts admires the picture but all say it is not finished. They account for his hurry & disregard for future fame by putting Water Colours by his stronger passion, love of money. I am sorry he sacrifices his great fame to present effect & object".
John Ruskin. Modern Painters. Vol. 1, 3rd ed. London, 1846, pp. 135–36, calls the whaling pictures exhibited in 1845 "altogether unworthy" of Turner.
John Burnet and Peter Cunningham. Turner and His Works. London, 1852, p. 120, no. 234, claim that both of the Whalers exhibited in 1845 were painted for Bicknell.
Walter Thornbury. The Life of J. M. W. Turner, R.A. London, 1862, vol. 2, pp. 383, 402.
Charles W. Deschamps. Letter to Henry G. Marquand. November 22, 1886, states his uncle, Gambart, bought in the picture for John Miller at his sale of 1858, and [erroneously] that on Miller's death it was sold to Sir Donald Currie [see Ref. Joll 1980].
Francis Seymour Haden. Letter to Samuel P. Avery. October 23, 1887, states that it has never been engraved, and that it belonged to Munro of Novar; asks £2,300 for it.
Francis Seymour Haden. Letter to Samuel P. Avery. March 30, 1895, reports that the picture is en route to New York.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Hand-Book No. 1: The Catharine Lorillard Wolfe Collection and Other Modern Paintings. New York, 1896, p. 10, no. 11, incorrectly gives the dimensions as 56 x 42 in.
"Metropolitan Museum of Art: New Purchases and Loans." New York Times (May 4, 1896), p. 4, states that it was purchased by Dr. Munro from the Royal Academy exhibition of 1846.
William Sharp. "The Art Treasures of America (Concluded.)." Living Age, 7th ser., 1 (December 3, 1898), pp. 603–4.
Arthur Hoeber. The Treasures of The Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York. New York, 1899, p. 70.
C. F. Bell. A List of the Works Contributed to Public Exhibitions by J. M. W. Turner, R.A. London, 1901, p. 152, no. 250, icorrectly refers to the Woolmer picture as a separate, smaller version, 18 x 24 in.; points out that the present picture should not be subtitled "Hurrah for the Whaler Erebus".
Walter Armstrong. Turner. London, 1902, pp. 158, 175, 236, quotes the January 31, 1845 note from Turner to Bicknell [see Ref.].
Robert Chignell. J. M. W. Turner, R.A. London, 1902, p. 203.
E. T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn, ed. The Works of John Ruskin. Vol. 3, London, 1903, pp. 250–52.
W. L. Wyllie. J. M. W. Turner. London, 1905, p. 134.
P[ercy]. M[oore]. Turner. "Pictures of the English School in New York." Burlington Magazine 22 (February 1913), p. 275.
Chauncey Brewster Tinker. Painter and Poet: Studies in the Literary Relations of English Painting, The Charles Eliot Norton Lectures for 1937–1938. Cambridge, Mass., 1938, pp. 158, 160, cites Beale's Natural History of the Sperm-Whale (1838; 2nd ed., 1839), with its woodcuts, as Turner's source for the Whaler series.
A. J. Finberg. The Life of J. M. W. Turner, R.A. Oxford, 1939, pp. 407, 409, 509, no. 564, states this was the one picture sold out of Turner's six 1845 Royal Academy exhibits.
Josephine L. Allen and Elizabeth E. Gardner. A Concise Catalogue of the European Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1954, p. 97.
T[homas]. S[herrer]. R[oss]. Boase. "Shipwrecks in English Romantic Painting." Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 22 (July–December 1959), p. 344, pl. 34d, notes the influence of Beale's text; observes that the reference to Erebus comes from Dr. John Richardson's Zoology of the Voyage of H. M. S. Erebus and Terror, of which part V was in Turner's library; calls a picture on loan to the Fogg a preliminary sketch.
Claus Virch. "'Ye Mists and Exhalations That Now Rise'." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 20 (April 1962), p. 253.
Jack Lindsay. J. M. W. Turner: His Life and Work. Greenwich, Conn., 1966, p. 192, suggests that Turner may have been inspired by having seen or heard of the 14 1/2 foot whale caught off Deptford in October 1842.
Harold I. Shapiro, ed. Ruskin in Italy: Letters to his Parents, 1845. Oxford, 1972, p. 82 n. 4, p. 230 n. 3, p. 248 n. 2, presumes this picture to have been the subject of Turner's quarrel with Bicknell.
Harold Beaver, ed. Moby-Dick; or, The Whale.. By Herman Melville. Harmondsworth, England, 1972, p. 711, pl. 9.
Martin Butlin, Andrew Wilton, and John Gage. Turner, 1775–1851. Exh. cat., Tate Gallery. London, 1974, pp. 140, 146, 171, note the related material in the Whalers sketchbook, T.B.CCCLIII-6–14, and mention also a watercolor at the Fitzwilliam Museum (PD.116.1950) which may come from T.B.CCCLVII of May 1845, suggest that Bicknell could have introduced Turner to Beale's book in about 1840.
Luke Herrmann. Turner: Paintings, Watercolors, Prints & Drawings. Boston, 1975, pp. 53–54, 234.
Malcolm Cormack. J. M. W. Turner, R.A., 1775–1851: A Catalogue of Drawings and Watercolours in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. Cambridge, 1975, pp. 74–75 n. 1, connects the Fitzwilliam watercolor with the whaling pictures and dates it 1845.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll. The Paintings of J. M. W. Turner. New Haven, 1977, vol. 1, pp. 63, 235–38, 242, 244, 259, no. 415; vol. 2, pl. 399, suggest that it was painted for Bicknell and redate Turner's letter to him from June 31 to January 31, 1845 [see Ref. Armstrong 1902]; explain the past confusion over the titles, relate the painting to Beale's third story in the Natural History, an incident of June 18, 1832.
Francis L. Fennell Jr. The Rossetti-Leyland Letters: The Correspondence of an Artist and his Patron. Athens, Ohio, 1978, p. 64, letter no. 79, p. 105 n. 1, notes that the picture, mentioned in a letter of May 31, 1874, was to be sold by Leyland at Christie's on June 13.
Andrew Wilton. Turner and the Sublime. Exh. cat., Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto. London, 1980, p. 153 n. 1.
Evelyn Joll. Letter to Hilary Ney. March 21, 1980, dismisses the possibility of Currie's ownership in 1886.
Luke Herrmann. "Turner and the Sea." Turner Studies: His Art and Epoch 1775–1851 1 (1981), p. 15.
Richard S. Moore. That Cunning Alphabet: Melville's Aesthetics of Nature. Amsterdam, 1982, p. 129, pl. IX.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll. The Paintings of J. M. W. Turner. rev. ed. New Haven, 1984, vol. 1, pp. 72, 85–86, 260–63, 267, 271, 289, no. 415; vol. 2, colorpl. 425.
John Pope-Hennessy. "Roger Fry and The Metropolitan Museum of Art." Oxford, China, and Italy: Writings in Honour of Sir Harold Acton on his Eightieth Birthday. Ed. Edward Chaney and Neil Ritchie. London, 1984, p. 231.
Peter Bicknell. "Turner's The Whale Ship: A Missing Link?" Turner Studies: His Art & Epoch 1775–1851 5 (Winter 1985), pp. 20–23, pl. 1, cover ill. (color detail), mentions a print after William John Huggins and proposes that Huggins's painting, A Whaler in the South Sea Fishery of about 1830–35, still in the collection of the Bicknell family, was Turner's visual source.
Robert K. Wallace. "The 'sultry creator of Captain Ahab': Herman Melville and J. M. W. Turner." Turner Studies: His Art & Epoch 1775–1851 5 (Winter 1985), pp. 8–9, 11–16, 18 n. 59, p. 19 nn. 80, 82, 85, 86, ill. on cover (color detail), suggests that Melville had the painting in mind while describing a picture in the Spouter-Inn in Moby-Dick, 1851, and believes he must have known it "very well," from having seen it in person in 1849 or from secondary sources.
Barry Venning. "Turner's Whaling Subjects." Burlington Magazine 127 (February 1985), pp. 75–83, fig. 10, is of the opinion that the four whaling pictures were "planned from the start as a quartet," describes where Turner departs from p. 175 of Beale's text, and relates the "elegiac quality" of the painting to the vicissitudes of the whaling industry.
Peter Bicknell and Helen Guiterman. "The Turner Collector: Elhanan Bicknell." Turner Studies: His Art & Epoch 1775–1851 7 (Summer 1987), p. 39, state that the four pictures of whalers "never ended up in the Bicknell collection" but "may have been commissioned by Elhanan, and at any rate were probably painted in the hope that he would buy them" while noting that this work "passed through [his] hands".
Andrew Wilton. Turner in his Time. New York, 1987, pp. 233, 243, 252 n. 303, fig. 303, notes that it "seems to derive much of its detail" from Huggins's painting.
Robert K. Wallace. "The Antarctic Sources for Turner's 1846 Whaling Oils." Turner Studies: His Art & Epoch 1775–1851 8 (Summer 1988), pp. 20–21, 29, fig. 6 (detail).
Robert K. Wallace. Melville & Turner: Spheres of Love and Fright. Athens, Ga., 1992, pp. 12, 175, 296, 306, 322–23, 325–30, 467, 469, 479, 496, 516, 518, 520, 532, 534, 540, 542–46, 548–50, 552–58, 561–62, 588, 599 n. 19, colorpl. 2, ill. p. 475 and fig. 154 (details).
Katharine Baetjer. European Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art by Artists Born Before 1865: A Summary Catalogue. New York, 1995, p. 204, ill. p. 203.
James Hamilton. Turner: A Life. London, 1997, p. 297, states that Bicknell "suggested, and possibly commissioned," the four whaling subjects.
Anthony Bailey. Standing in the Sun: A Life of J. M. W. Turner. London, 1997, p. 358.
Evelyn Joll inThe Oxford Companion to J. M. W. Turner. Ed. Evelyn Joll et al. Oxford, 2001, pp. 24, 187, asserts that Bicknell acquired but probably did not commission it.
Robert K. Wallace inThe Oxford Companion to J. M. W. Turner. Ed. Evelyn Joll et al. Oxford, 2001, pp. 377–79, 414, notes that whales and whaling were "unlikely subjects" for the Royal Academy in 1845, that this picture was the only one of the four to be sold in Turner's lifetime, and that its acquisition by the MMA initiated its early and extended public exposure.
David Blayney Brown. Turner in the Tate Collection. London, 2002, p. 162.
James Hamilton. Turner: The Late Seascapes. Exh. cat., Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Mass. New Haven, 2003, pp. 57, 99, 103–6, 149 n. 27, p. 155, ill. p. 88 (color detail), fig. 56 (color).
Ian Warrell inJ. M. W. Turner. Ed. Ian Warrell. Exh. cat., Washington National Gallery of Art. London, 2007, pp. 188, 194, 197, 199–200, 203, 259, no. 144, ill. (color).
Franklin Kelly inJ. M. W. Turner. Ed. Ian Warrell. Exh. cat., Washington National Gallery of Art. London, 2007, pp. 242–43.
Rebecca A. Rabinow inMasterpieces of European Painting, 1800–1920, in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2007, pp. 23, 309–10, no. 21, ill. (color and black and white).
Katharine Baetjer. British Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1575–1875. New York, 2009, pp. 233–37, no. 114, ill. (color).
Christine Riding in Christine Riding and Richard Johns. Turner & the Sea. Exh. cat., National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London. London, 2013, pp. 244, 268–69, no. 139, ill. (color), reviews both contemporary criticism and private reactions to its appearance at the Royal Academy exhibition of 1845; notes that he produced several sketches of whales and whalers in his Channel, Ambleteuse, and Wimereux sketchbooks of about 1845; states that the passage in Beale's "Natural History" to which Turner referred in his accompanying note to the painting at the Royal Academy in 1845 evoked the kind of hopeless endeavor typically of interest to the painter; links Melville's emphasis on the "whiteness of the whale" in "Moby Dick" to the dominant white tones of Turner's four whaling pictures of 1845–46.
Sam Smiles in Christine Riding and Richard Johns. Turner & the Sea. Exh. cat., National Maritime Museum. London, 2013, ill. p. 273 (color detail).
Mary Tompkins Lewis. "A Leviathan Talent." Wall Street Journal (May 18, 2016), p. D5, ill. (color).
Thomas P. Campbell in "Turner's Whaling Pictures." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 73 (Spring 2016), p. 4, notes that the corresponding exhibition is the first to consider the possible influence of the whaling series on Herman Melville's "Moby Dick".
Alison Hokanson. "Turner's Whaling Pictures." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 73 (Spring 2016), pp. 6–7, 12–13, 19–21, 23–27, 35, 40–46 nn. 3, 7, 23, p. 47 nn. 38, 64, ill. on cover (color detail), fig. 5 (color), discusses at length the quartet of whaling pictures Turner created in 1845 and 1846 as "two distinct yet related pairs"; explores precedents within Turner's work as well as outside sources for The Met's painting, the artist's motivation in turning to the subject, ownership and criticism of the picture, and its possible relationship to Melville's "Moby Dick".
Jason Edwards inTurner and the Whale. Ed. Jason Edwards. Exh. cat., Hull Maritime Museum. Oxford, 2017, pp. 11, 55, 57, 59, 61–62, 71–73, 76, 78, 80–82, 87, 90 n. 21, fig. 3.2 (color).
According to Haden (1887), the painting belonged to H. A. J. Munro of Novar, although none of the Christie's catalogues in which the painting was offered (1851, 1858, 1874, 1875, 1883, and 1891) mention him as a previous owner.
Although Ruskin 1845 suggests that Turner may have employed watercolors in this painting, no traces have been found in any paintings that have been examined. Joyce Townsend, in her study of Turner’s painting techniques, writes that the comments of some of the artist’s contemporaries indicate that he used watercolor medium when completing his pictures on Varnishing Days (the day before the opening of an exhibition, when artists could varnish their paintings or add final touches). Townsend concludes, "Some of the highly thinned paint which Turner used looks like watercolor medium, but in fact none was found—or none has survived—on any of the finished paintings" examined in her study. (Townsend, Turner’s Painting Techniques, London, 1993, p. 53).
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After Joseph Mallord William Turner (British, London 1775–1851 London)
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