Yesterday there was an excellent discussion about the Fighting Temeraire on BBC Radio 4’s ‘In Our Time‘. And they mentioned that Turner might not had actually seen the Temeraire being towed, which I believe it is true since Turner was reported to be in South France at that time. However, this fact does not influence in anything of the powerful and heroic message this painting (National Gallery in London) has to offer.
The ghost ship you see here is the Temeraire, it is being towed by this dark tugboat after the Battle of Trafalgar, a huge naval battle between the British and the French which the British navy won. The Temeraire was a British ship and it was the key element for such victory. However, after the battle the Temeraire had never seen action again, it was turned into a supply ship, until it was sold for scrap. So, this is a painting of the last moments of a hero ship after a glorious journey.