On permanent loan from HSBC, this view of the Grand Harbour captured from Fort Ricasoli is by J. M. W. Turner, the most important British Romantic artist of the 19th century. As Turner never stepped foot on Malta, his only source for this particular scene could have only been drawings by artists who had visited the island. Yet speculation on whose work he ultimately relied on prevails.
This view steers away from strict topographical conventions to one imbued with Turner’s characteristic poetic eloquence. In true Romantic spirit, the emphasis on capturing constantly changing light and weather conditions is revealed by the restless brushwork and the preference for an overall sketchiness rather than a meticulous approach to detail. The tall masts and inflated sails of the ships, and the stronger colours of the passage and fishing boats in the bustling Grand Harbour become the main protagonists against the Valletta promontory backdrop. Insignificant in size but not in importance, the two fishermen in the immediate foreground act as the visual stepping stone for the spectator’s interaction with this view.