Joseph Mallord William TURNER
(London 1775 - London 1851)
A Storm at Sea
180 x 291 mm. (7 1/8 x 11 1/2 in.)
ACQUIRED BY THE MINNEAPOLIS INSTITUTE OF ARTS, MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA.
Turner visited Staffa – an uninhabited island in the Inner Hebrides in Scotland, dominated by a large sea cave known as Fingal’s Cave, formed of basalt columns - in August or September 1831, and the painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy the following year. Like the present watercolour, the painting depicts an arching storm cloud over a stormy sea. In the painting, the clouds are paralleled by the smoke from the funnel of a steamship at the right of the composition, and what may be a mast or funnel can just be seen as a vertical element above the waves near the left edge of the composition of this watercolour.
Turner’s late, ephemeral watercolours were an aspect of his working process that he kept very much to himself, and the present sheet is a rare example of one of these private works which seems to have left the artist’s studio in his lifetime or soon afterwards. (Although Turner produced numerous watercolours of this type, colour studies such as the present watercolour are only rarely found outside of the Turner Bequest at the Tate.)
A superb example of Turner’s remarkable gifts as a watercolourist, this expressive study of a storm at sea represents an aspect of the artist’s method that, as historian Richard Johns has noted, has only recently been studied; 'The private world of Turner’s sketchbooks and studio has been investigated, exposed and selectively called upon as evidence in the shifting assessment of the painter’s long-term significance for the history of art. This is nowhere more apparent than in those drawings and watercolours that are concerned with the sea.’