“The guilty ship”: Ruskin, Turner and Dabydeen

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This article examines critical responses to J. M. W. Turner’s Slavers Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying —Typhon Coming On (1840) and John Ruskin’s 1843 critique of the painting, in the years following the publication of David Dabydeen’s Turner (1994). The representation of drowning slaves in Turner’s painting and in Ruskin’s art criticism, has resulted in the emergence of something of a critical consensus in which both figures are seen either to neglect or take pleasure in the subject of slavery. The purpose of this article is to explore available evidence and to argue that insufficient attention has been paid to Turner’s painting, to his politics and to his purpose in Slavers; to Ruskin’s objectives in critiquing Turner; to distinctions between Ruskin’s imperialism and his position on slavery; and to his examination of Turner’s painting. In a corrective to recent critical assumptions, I suggest that in these instances claims made on these issues often rest on shaky foundations and that it is possible for more sustainable readings of Turner’s painting and Ruskin’s criticism to emerge.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)371-388
Number of pages18
JournalThe Journal of Commonwealth Literature
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2010


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