Joseph Mallord William Turner (London 1775-1851)
Neapolitan Fisher Girls Surprised Bathing by Moonlight, 1840
Oil on canvas, 26 x 31 inches (63.5 x 78.8 cm)
Turner was greatly influenced by the works of Claude Lorrain and many of his paintings pay tribute to the genius of his predecessor. Claude’s harbour scenes, with the dazzling sun, low in the sky, beating a path across the water and extending its glow to envelope the ships and buildings in a golden haze, confirmed Turner’s own observations of light; but, far beyond the limits of Claude’s art, he pursued the full range of atmospheric effects and the intensity of natural colour.
In 1819 Turner made his first journey to Italy. While in Rome, hearing that Vesuvius was in eruption, he hurried south to Naples; it was his only visit to that city. In 1840, when he was sixty-five, he exhibited seven works at the Royal Academy, among them the celebrated Slave Ship (Cleveland Museum of Art) and Neapolitan Fisher Girls Surprised Bathing by Moonlight, reproduced here, two paintings totally different in conception, yet each a study of light. One shows a turbulent sea in a fiery sunset; the other, predominantly blue, a harbour beneath a brilliant moon whose light invades the sky and the calm sea below, almost turning night into day. Turner here reinterprets the world of Claude as though seen in a dream; figures flit in and out of foreground shadows, moonlight gives the huge tree a ghostly look and dissolves into pale, insubstantial forms the fishing boats and palaces beyond. To the left, dwarfed by the splendour of the moon, distant Vesuvius shoots out flames, which tinge with orange its canopy of volcanic smoke.