Illustrated companion

In this painting Turner developed to its fullest and most complex extent the vortex-like swirling structure that he had given to earlier pictures of stormy seas such as 'The Shipwreck' [Tate Gallery N00476]. Here, all the forces of the storm are focused on the small and fragile looking steamship, pitching in the waves in the centre of the composition. In the title Turner takes the trouble to inform us that the painting is the result of a direct personal experience, and he is reported to have said of it 'I did not paint it to be understood but I wished to show what such a scene was like; I got the sailors to lash me to the mast to observe it; I was lashed for hours and did not expect to escape but I felt bound to record it if I did'. However, no ship named 'Ariel' has been found sailing out of Harwich. The truly unusual quality of 'Snow Storm ...' caused consternation among the art critics when it was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1842. One famous comment was that the picture was nothing but a mass of 'soapsuds and whitewash'. John Ruskin recorded Turner's response to this when Turner was at his house one day: '... after dinner, sitting in his armchair by the fire I heard him muttering to himself at intervals "soapsuds and whitewash! What would they have? I wonder what they think the seas's like? I wish they'd been in it" '.

Published in:
Simon Wilson, Tate Gallery: An Illustrated Companion, Tate Gallery, London, revised edition 1991, p.59