Replenishing the Void: Turner’s Sunset at Sea, with Gurnets

Mandy Marie Swann


The nineteenth-century marine animal is sublime, but J.M.W Turner makes his marine animals beautiful in his watercolour Sunset at Sea, with Gurnets, c. 1836-40. In this essay, I analyse Turner’s depiction of marine animals through the lens of Edmund Burke’s aesthetic categories of the sublime and the beautiful, showcasing both seldom studied sketches and paintings and major pieces. Sunset at Sea, with Gurnets represents a rare aesthetic shift in the period and in Turner’s own work. The watercolour suggests Turner’s awareness of the unsustainable plunder of the ocean, as well as his desire to evoke empathy for the inhabitants of the sea and signal the intimate connection between marine animals and humanity.


J.M.W. Turner; marine animals; sea; aesthetics; Edmund Burke

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@Journal of Ecocriticism. ISSN 1916-1549