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Turner and the Whale: York art historians co-curate new exhibition

Posted on 2 October 2017

Hull Maritime Museum and University of York art historians are curating a new exhibition of J. M. W. Turner’s controversial paintings of whaling as part of Hull’s UK City of Culture celebrations.


Whalers (Boiling Blubber) Entangled in Flaw Ice, Endeavouring to Extricate Themselves by J.M.W. Turner. Tate: Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856.

Turner and the Whale represents a rare opportunity to see together three of the four whaling canvasses produced by the acclaimed marine artist in 1845-1846.

The exhibition, on display at the Hull Maritime Museum from Saturday 7 October, is curated by the Museum, and Professor Jason Edwards and AHRC-funded PhD student Martha Cattell of the University of York's Department of History of Art.

For the York curators, Turner and the Whale marks the culmination of a two-year research project.

Professor Edwards said: “For me, what's particularly important about the show is the way that it encourages us to think about human-animal interactions, as well as the Arctic, at a time of mass species extinctions and irreversible climate change.

“The Arctic landscape has changed utterly since Turner's day, in part as a response to the shift, in the painter's period, from whale oil to light candles and streets and to lubricate industrial machinery, to fossil fuels.” 

Turner was one of the 19th century’s greatest and most prolific marine artists. However, when he showed the whaling canvasses in pairs at the Royal Academy summer exhibition in London, they received a mixed press among his contemporaries. Today’s critics in contrast, frequently view the paintings as a triumphant exercise in Turner's still challenging abstract late style.

For the exhibition, Turner’s paintings will be shown alongside work by his contemporaries in Hull, as well as some of the museum's renowned collection of scrimshaw - engravings created by whalers using bones and teeth of marine mammals - and Inuit art.

Turner and the Whale will be on display until the end of the year. Entrance is free.

Further information:

  • Professor Jason Edwards has produced an accompanying book to the exhibition.

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