Ulysses Deriding Polyphemus by J. M. W. Turner at the National Gallery in London

Welcome to “Art, Culture & Books” with me Anthony King. Today I’ll be taking you on a video and photographic tour of Ulysses Deriding Polyphemus painted in 1829 by J. M. W. Turner at the National Gallery in London.

As always, I take all the photos and videos myself on location, ensuring you get an up-close and personal view of the fascinating world of art and culture. I’ll be popping in and out with commentary as this video progresses but for now let’s take a close up look.

In this painting, Turner draws inspiration from Homer’s Odyssey, portraying Ulysses sailing away from the island where the one-eyed giant Polyphemus had imprisoned him and his crew. Ulysses, adorned in a helmet and scarlet cloak, triumphantly raises his arms on the ship’s deck beneath a red banner, gazing back at the island. His lifted torch, used to blind Polyphemus, contrasts with the massive shadow of the giant sprawled on the towering clifftop.

The artwork highlights Turner’s evolving emphasis on colour and light in his historical landscapes, marking a shift towards a more expressive direction in his painting. This shift foreshadows the visionary qualities seen in his later works. In 1856, art critic John Ruskin hailed it as the pivotal piece in Turner’s career, the National Gallery tells us.

Titled “Ulysses deriding Polyphemus – Homer’s Odyssey,” the painting originated from oil sketches Turner created in Italy between August 1828 and February 1829. Due to shipping delays from Rome to London, Turner had to produce new works, including this one, for the 1829 Royal Academy exhibition.

The canvas showcases a rich palette, featuring deep cobalt blues, fiery reds, delicate pinks, greens, and yellows, emphasizing the increasing role of colour and light over what Turner referred to as “historic tone” in his historical landscapes.

Take a closer look at the front of the ship, particularly the white area – there might be details initially overlooked in your first viewing.

By Anthony King (c)