J.M.W. Turner’s largest painting, The Battle of Trafalgar, 21 October 1805, is one of the jewels of our fine art collection. See it for free at the National Maritime Museum.
The finished painting - Turner's most publicly controversial - contains a number of incidents from different times during the battle. The falling mast may be an allusion to Nelson’s death, while code flags spell out ‘d-u-t-y’, both the last word of Nelson’s signal to the British fleet at the start of the battle, and the last words he reportedly spoke. In the foreground British seamen try to save fellow and enemy crew from the bloodied sea.
At the time, the painting provoked criticism for its non-chronological approach to Nelson's victory and its powerful allusions to the human price of Britain's triumph at sea.