Turner painted many pictures exploring the effects of an elemental vortex. Here, there is a steam-boat at the heart of the vortex. In this context the vessel can be interpreted as a symbol of mankind’s futile efforts to combat the forces of nature.
It is famously said that Turner conceived this image while lashed to the mast of a ship during an actual storm at sea. This seems to be nothing more than fiction, but the story has endured as a way of demonstrating Turner’s full-blooded engagement with the world around him.