When this painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy in I839 its title was accompanied in the catalogue by these lines from Thomas Campbell’s `Ye Mariners of England’
The flag which braved the battle and the breeze,
No longer owns her.
The passing of the age of sail into steam-ships, iron vessels, indeed the industrial revolution, coincided with great artist like Turner and John Constable painting both the old idyllic landscape with castles, abbeys and scenes of the past age alongside steam trains, boats and industrial changes as exciting them days as computer in our time.
The pinnacle of Constables paintings ‚The Haywain’ is set undeniably in the past. Turner’s ‚The Fighting Temeraire’ shows us the passing away of that time. A grand forty year old champion of the Battle of Trafalgar, being towed away to it’s last berth by a modern steam tug bellowing smoke.
Turner was seen on board a Margate steamer sketching the passage of the Temeraire upriver to Beatson’s ship breaking yard at Rotherhithe on 6 September I838, although what he saw and what he painted are two different things. Thus we know from contemporary newspaper reports that the Temeraire was towed by two tugs, and another observer of the towing later testified that the painter invented the spectacular sunset. The Temeraire glorified for the last time by Turner’s brushes, for in reality she is stripped of her masts, sail and rigging, all guns and useful parts are removed by the Admiralty as spares. The ship is to be stripped of it’s oak wood at the breaker’s yard, the copper sold back to the Admiralty for £3000, the breaker having paid around £5500 for the hull.
The Temeraire that would have made a marvelous museum piece in itself, is now left the the nation in the National Gallery as a painting. Thanks to Turner the ship that saved the ‚Victory’ at the Battle of Trafalgar is still remembered. The importance of the painting realized by Turner who never sold ‚His Darling’.