Joseph Mallord William Turner (English, 1775–1851)
Snow Storm—Steam Boat off a Harbour's Mouth Making Signals in Shallow Water, and Going by the Lead. The Author Was in this Storm on the Night the Ariel Left Harwich
Oil on canvas; 36 x 48 in.
This work reflects Turner's interest in motion and light regarding the portrayal of subject matter. Unlike the finer, more intricately detailed paintings of his earlier work, the subject of a ship in a storm has been reduced to line, color and shape. This puts the emphasis on motion, and the viewer keenly feels the violent movements of the sea during a storm. This is also achieved with the balancing of dark and light strokes between the sea, sky, and ship to form a visual weight, suggesting the ship might even sink.
This painting received a fair bit of criticism when it was displayed in 1842, the least of which being skepticism that Turner might not actually have witnessed the event the title claims. Perhaps as an embodiment of the Romantic/Naturalistic age of his time, Turner responded, "I did not paint it to be understood, but I wished to show what such a scene was like." This attitude perhaps forebode the coming of Impressionism with the capturing of an ephemeral scene, and stood in direct contrast with the coming of photography, which captures an event exactly as it is seen.