When Turner exhibited this picture at the Royal Academy in 1840 he paired it with the following extract from his unfinished and unpublished poem "Fallacies of Hope" (1812):
"Aloft all hands, strike the top-masts and belay;
Yon angry setting sun and fierce-edged clouds
Declare the Typhon's coming.
Before it sweeps your decks, throw overboard
The dead and dying - ne'er heed their chains
Hope, Hope, fallacious Hope!
Where is thy market now?"
For the full text of Turner's verse see A. J. Finberg, The Life of J.M.W. Turner, R.A., 2nd ed., 1961, p. 474
One of Turner's most celebrated works, Slave Ship is a striking example of the artist's fascination with violence, both human and elemental. The painting was based on a poem that described a slave ship caught in a typhoon, and on the true story of the slave ship Zong whose captain, in 1781, had thrown overboard sick and dying slaves so that he could collect insurance money available only for slaves "lost at sea." Turner captures the horror of the event and terrifying grandeur of nature through hot, churning color and light that merge sea and sky. The critic John Ruskin, the first owner of Slave Ship, wrote, "If I were reduced to rest Turner's immortality upon any single work, I should choose this."
Slave Ship (Slavers Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying, Typhoon Coming On)
- Joseph Mallord William Turner, English, 1775–1851
- 90.8 x 122.6 cm (35 3/4 x 48 1/4 in.)
- Medium or Technique
- Oil on canvas
- Landscape - Seascape; Historical
- Accession Number
- On view
- The Beal Gallery (Europe, 1800–1870) - 251