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Past Exhibition

Regulus

*oil painting of crowded ships and small boats seemingly leaving shore into intense light, with many people on shore

Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851)
Regulus, exhibited 1828, reworked and exhibited 1837
Oil on canvas
35 1/4 x 48 3/4 in. (89.5  x 123.8 cm)
Tate; Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
© Tate, London 2016

In this imagined port scene, painted shortly after Turner abandoned work on The Harbor of Brest, the artist treats a subject uniquely suited to his brilliant effects of light. Its title alludes to an often-told episode of ancient history in which the Roman general Marcus Atilius Regulus was forced by his Carthaginian captors to stare at the sun until it blinded him. Here, the hero is barely perceptible, reduced to a few pale brushstrokes at the top of the stairway at right. In searching for Regulus, the viewer experiences his fate, forced to stare at the blazing light radiating across sky and sea. By depicting the story of a man blinded by the sun, Turner was issuing a defiant response to the criticism that had been leveled against the intense luminosity of Harbor of Dieppe and Cologne.