Empire to Nation offers a new consideration of the image of the sea in British visual culture during a critical period for both the rise of the visual arts in Britain and the expansion of the nation's imperial power. It argues that maritime imagery was central to cultivating a sense of nationhood in relation to rapidly expanding geographical knowledge and burgeoning imperial ambition. At the same time, the growth of the maritime empire presented new opportunities for artistic enterprise.
Taking as its starting point the year 1768, which marks the foundation of the Royal Academy and the launch of Captain Cook's first circumnavigation, it asserts that this was not just an interesting coincidence but symptomatic of the relationship between art and empire. This relationship was officially sanctioned in the establishment of the Naval Gallery at Greenwich Hospital and the installation there of J. M. W. Turner's great Battle of Trafalgar in 1829, the year that closes this study. Between these two poles, the book traces a changing historical discourse that informed visual representation of maritime subjects