Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Skyfall and the Painting in M's Office

Following on from my blogs about the paintings in the new Bond film Skyfall, I've been asked what the painting is in the final scenes where (not giving any spoilers away) Bond receives his new assignment in M's office.

Prominently between the two characters is a painting on the wall.   As you 'read' the scene between the two characters who book-end the shot, you 'read' across the painting.

Here it is close up (rather blurry, sorry)...

It's HMS “Victory” Heavily Engaged at the Battle of Trafalgar, possibly by Thomas Buttersworth (although there are a number of similar versions by both Buttersworth and other marine artists).

Thomas Buttersworth, H.M.S. “Victory” heavily engaged at the battle of Trafalgar, 1825

Anyway, the important thing is that it's the Battle of Trafalgar.  Given that the paintings in the film have been full of significance, what's the meaning of this painting in the context of a James Bond film?

Skyfall uses the metaphor of Bond as an old warship who is past his prime and no longer needed, through the medium of a Turner painting, The Fighting TemeraireTurner's painting, with its sunset and reflections, evokes a feeling of sadness and loss at the passing of an era (here specifically of Britain's naval supremacy), which is in turn applied to middle-aged Bond.

Joseph Mallord William Turner, The Fighting Temeraire, 1839

Read about the scene in the National Gallery in front of Turner's The Fighting Temeraire here and  here.

So  what about the painting which the film ends with, showing the Battle of Trafalgar?

The story of the battle is that, after a lengthy and frustrating chase across the Atlantic and back, Lord Nelson finally confronted the Franco-Spanish fleet off Cape Trafalgar on the morning of 21st October 1805. Outnumbered, Nelson thought up an unconventional plan to break the enemy line in two places.  Carnage ensued.  At the height of the battle, a French sharp-shooter, taking aim from the mizzentop of the Redoubtable,  hit the heroic Nelson.  This is the moment captured in the painting.   Nelson was carried, wounded, below decks.  However, he lived to hear that it was a convincing British victory, with the surviving Franco-Spanish ships fleeing to Cadiz.

Skyfall is full of flag-waving Britishness.  It's Bond as a British icon, established for 50 years.  Just as Turner's The Fighting Temeraire was voted 'The Nation's Favourite Painting', so Bond is the nation's favourite spy, in this case overcoming the baddie, Silva, played by a Spanish actor.  The Battle of Trafalgar is the quintessential British victory, with Nelson overcoming the Franco-Spanish fleet by means of a nifty new manoevre, splitting them up and picking them off. 

Bond may initially be likened to the Temeraire being towed to the scrapyard. However, by the end of Skyfall, when he receives his new orders, the story arc is such that Bond has been reborn, rejuvinated.

Now, here's the clever bit with the painting in M's office..

Is this painting therefore telling you how to interpret the battle at Skyfall (the house)?  It's actually the Battle of Trafalgar - where, against the odds, resourcefulness and unconventional tactics lead to a great British victory.  That reading would even suggest that M is a Nelson figure - think of her final scene, and the parallels with Nelson (even down to the kiss).  

But perhaps the most interesting parallel is that when Nelson led HMS Victory to engage the enemy at the Battle of Trafalgar, right behind him was (wait for it) the “Temeraire”.  That's the same Temeraire that Turner painted, and which appears earlier in the film.  But now we see it in its youthful heyday, rejuvinated, reborn, back in the thick of the action, literally right behind British Victory.  

Now there's a mission statement for the next Bond film!

Of course, the reason that there's paintings of ships and sea references at all in M's office is a reference to Dr No of 1962.

Take a look here at M's office.

M's office is full of ship paintings, models, and naval references such as telescopes.  Have a look at the drawings behind Bernard Lee here.

And also behind Sean Connery here.

Fleming himself occasionally referenced M's career in the British Navy, so it's not mere set-decorating by the film-makers.  

The fact that it's a reference in Skyfall which is then extended and developed into the meaning of the film itself is a nice touch for film fans in the franchise's fiftieth anniversary year.

You might also be interested in this blog on the painting in M's office in Skyfall HERE.


  1. Excellent commentary!

    I might also point out that in the scenes in Scotland where you can see the fire in the fog, that the colors/atmosphere seem very similar to those in the painting of the “Temeraire.”

    1. Thank you!

      Also the statue on top of the gatepost at the entrance to Skyfall (the house) is a stag - which echoes Landseer's iconic 'Monarch of the Glen' painting. I'm sure you know the one... actually, I've seen the painting in real life, and it's so much better than all the kitsch reproductions you see of it on shortbread tins!

  2. nice analysis of the symbolism of the "going back in time" motif in the paintings.
    the victory, although drydocked, is still officially in service, 207 years after trafalgar!

  3. Wow excellent! You have taken this past my intital theories and shown that there is much depth to the two paintings and its realtion to Skyfall (the movie). The whole English and Spanish being at war relating to the Spanish actor and Bond also blew my mind. Its great how much can be derived from two paintings in a movie! Thank you for identifying and expanding on these two painting, I enjoyed the education very much.

  4. Thanks a lot for your comments concerning the paintings!
    Yesterday I saw Skyfall, and although I recognized the paintings in the National Gallery and "some Modigliani painting" (and wondered which one it might be), there now was really a lot that I learned about the "more advanced stories" behind them.
    Thanks again!

  5. Thank you for the insights. I was fascinated by the "La femme a l'eventail" (Woman with a Fan) by Amedeo Modigliani. Loved how it reflected the mood of the actress as she looked out at Bond. Interestingly, this painting was stolen, in real life, back in 2010 ( from the Paris Museum of Modern Art. The movie needed a stolen painting as bait for the marked man, and they used this one---such attention to detail!

  6. I loved your analysis! I saw Skyfall a second time and I noticed the paintings and began to talk to my friend about it right afterwards.

    I started my own analysis too! I'm such a geek!

    I found your blog when I started researching. ( I've linked you my blog! ) There is so much to say! I've written about 5 of the paintings in Skyfall, I am researching a possible 6th. However, it's been 2 days I am trying to find the artist, but it still eludes me.

    Glad some people caught on! I love Art History, but a lot of people fell asleep in my class back in college !!

    1. Thanks for the compliments Sharyl! There's a lot to be said for Art History - it's all just about problem solving...

      Had a look at your blog - nice work (but sorry about your beret..)!

      Which 6th painting are you talking about? Perhaps I can help if you send me a picture or a still as someone kindly did for the Battle of Trafalgar painting. I love a challenge!

    2. Thank you! Yes Let's Team up!

      Well the I wasn't too sure about this last one, but I have been thinking about it and I am positive it there intentionally. Every single character had an artwork or piece that represented them. So it was only natural that when I finally saw Eve Moneypenny with a painting behind her, I knew it had a meaning too ( I think I know what the meaning is, clearly obvious with the colours and subject matter ) but what I really need to know it's the Title and Painter of the painting!

      If I think of it this way:

      Q & James = The paintings behind them and the one they were gazing at.
      M = I strongly think the painting that was sitting inside Mallory's box in the beginning was a hint. We can also count the Poem to be associated with her.
      Mallory = Painting hung in his office.
      Sévérine= Woman with a Fan
      Raoul = Experiment with Bird, or in this case, I think the Statue that was on the abandoned Island foreshadows his fall in the movie.

      It's driving me insane, we didn't cover British Landscape painting too long in class, so I assumed perhaps a Turner or Constable, but the Style is much too different. I've scoured British, Dutch and Spanish painters in that Era, but maybe it's a commissioned piece? Which would break the painting origins ( Most of the paintings featured are British or Italian origin ).

      I am still searching, but please let me know if you recognize it!

    3. Hmm, that's a toughie, especially as the lovely Miss Moneypenny inconveniently has her head over half the painting. Move over, lady!!

      I'll work on it...the trees and temple-like building look Italianate, but the sky looks quite Constable-y.

      Anyone else any ideas...? Or anyone got a picture without her head in the way?

      (Of course it could just be...a nice painting....?)

    4. It's by James Isaiah Lewis.
      Titled "View down over Ham Fields from the Top of Richmond Hill, Surrey"

    5. Woo-hooh!!

      Very well done and thank you Mr/Ms Bearhugsuk. You are indeed correct, and I am eternally grateful!

      Lewis isn't an artist that I'm familiar with, and I had in fact trawled the 'Your Paintings' website to no avail already - I'd thought perhaps Hampstead Heath? But no, it' s Richmond Hill. Well done!

  7. Thank you for making these connections. There are some exquisitely shot scenes in the movie, Shanghai and the post-explosion Skyfall being standouts, but these deeper layers of communication make it a really rich, profound experience, which you've drawn out nicely.

    The painting behind Moneypenny looks familiar. Something about it made me think of Rembrandt, but I suppose Constable would be more likely.

  8. I wonder if the reference to Trafalgar is an allusion to M being Nelson. Nelson died at Trafalgar as M did at Skyfall. Even her quote "At least I did something right..." is similar to Nelson's "Thank God I have done my duty..." Would that mean that Bond is Captain Hardy?

  9. This is so fantastic. It wasn't until my 3rd viewing (first in IMAX) that I caught the painting between Mallory and Bond at the ending. The next time I watched it in IMAX (3 total times in IMAX 15/70), I paid close attention to the paintings behind Q & Bond, mentioned in your other post. I suspected one was a correlation to Q regarding science/R&D, and the one behind Bond was a symbol of his relationships (or lack thereof) in life.

    Seeing others comment on some of the paintings I missed has me curious. Thanks again for your effort, and I hope you don't mind I pinned your articles to my Pinterest account. Take care.

  10. That's very kind of you - delighted to hear that it added to your enjoyment of the film! Thanks for putting it on Pinterest.

    The painting references are, however, mind-bogglingly impossible to make out on a first viewing at the cinema. It does make you think that the film has been made with the idea of fans poring over their Skyfall DVD's with their fingers permanently hovering over the pause button!

  11. I also noticed, in the final scene, M has a painting of the MI6 building behind him. I was wondering if that was some kind of subtle statement that the 'public' MI6 was past, and now they were reverting to a secretive existence, like the "Universal Exports" days.

  12. Apparently that painting is by James Hart Dyke, painted in 2011.

    Your point could well be true. I guess it could well be setting up some sort of mission statement for Bond 24 - which may be starting to shoot at the end of the year, if you believe the rumours!

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  14. Hi Judith,
    I loved reading this piece! Well written!

    Merlen Hogg

  15. Are you on the studio payroll? Because you are making everybody go out and watch this film again! B)

    Thanks for the insight.

    1. Gosh, wish I was on the studio payroll!! But no, I'm just a lowly artist.

      Glad you found the piece interesting! Thanks for commenting.

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  17. This is really amazing, I thought i loved history. can i link this to my blog post?

  18. Well, thank you. Yes, indeed you can.

  19. Great job for publishing such a beneficial web site. Your web log isn’t only useful but it is additionally really creative too. There tend to be not many people who can certainly write not so simple posts that artistically. Continue the nice writing

  20. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  21. This is an interesting article, well done.
    If only the scriptwriters had paid this much attention to the rest of the script, it may not have been such a colander of a plot! More holes that a rusty old ship!

  22. Thank you very much, Mr Gale! Much appreciated.

    Actually, I don't think it really matters if the plot doesn't make sense. Does anyone actually watched a Bond film for the plot...?

    Bond girls.
    Bond villains.
    Bond gadgets.
    Bond exotic locations.
    Bond plots...?

  23. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  28. And no one has commented on that other Nelson touch? Nelson only had one arm; Mallory has his arm in a sling.

    1. Aaaahhhh...very clever, and well spotted, eagle-eyed sir/madam! Yes, i had missed that.

  29. Hi Judith,

    If you have noticed more hits on your blog then this is probably the reason.

    I wrote an answer on Quora and searched for a good picture and found you blog. I also like your interpretation and used it and referenced it.

    I hope you don't mind and hopefully it's got you more hits on your blog.


  30. Great observation. Wonderful article to read. Thanks for sharing

  31. A wonderful post. Thanks for sharing with us.

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    دا واجب علينا الي في شركه التعامل بكل الحكمة والمهارة من أجل التخلص من تلك الأتربة خيوط العنكبوت
    شركة كشف تسربات المياه بخميس مشيط التي تعتبر من الاشياء المناسبه لها دائما وفي ذلك نحن نستمر وانا اعمل من اجل رفع القدرة والكفاءة الخاصة بنا وإدراك الفاعلية والكفاءة في التنظيف
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  33. Slightly off topic but if you want to read about a ship with a more interesting story than HMS Victory, take a look at HMS Tonnant who sailed with the Victory.


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  35. I loved your analysis! Really loved your paintings

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  41. What is the battleship depicted in the gold framed, white oval matted photo in M’s office? It’s appeared in a number of Bond movies as far back as the ‘60’s. I’m thinking it’s of the Lord Nelson/Agamemnon class. Please advise.

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