"Tempête de Neige" exposé en 1842 de J.W. Turner 
Snow Storm - Steam-Boat off a  Harbour's Mouth making Signals in Shallow Water, and going by the Lead

Snow Storm Steam Boat in Harbour Mouth J. M. W. Turner, circa 1842

Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) was an English painter whose special talent was to capture the English light and weather in all its vicissitudes. This oil on canvas work was painted around 1842 in the latter years of Turner’s life.

Turner is considered one of the most original and gifted of all English landscape painters and was a prolific artist. His work became increasingly expressive and loosely painted as he became older. This painting is famous and highly admired, but at the time of production, was attacked by critics as ‘soapsuds and whitewash’.

According to this article by Meryle Secrest, when this work was first exhibited “the public was outraged, scandalized. Mr. Turner, the critics said, had gone mad. Turner was naturally upset, but he had probably expected this response. He took great pains with the title so as to assure his viewers that he had put down on canvas exactly what had happened: a steamboat just off a harbour mouth in shallow water had been battered by a snowstorm. The 64-year-old Turner had ordered himself lashed to the ship’s mast for four hours in the midst of the storm. He said later that he had not expected to survive, but he had more than endured, he had triumphed; and the painting is one of his finest achievements”. Turner’s desire to paint expressively and in ‘plein air’ (the open air, straight from life) was unusual and showed a modern outlook and constant desire to experiment and improve.


J. M. W. Turner [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Wrap Up Your Painting

  • When looking at the background of the painting, what did you notice?
  • What three or four words did you use to describe the atmosphere of the painting?
  • When you imagined yourself into the painting what did your fingertips touch?
  • How did you feel about being in the painting?
  • Has your opinion of the painting altered in any way after doing this guided noticing exercise?
  • How do you feel now you’ve completed this activity? If you enjoyed it, why not add more Look at Paintings audio guides to your week? And don’t forget, you can take these guides with you to your local gallery and try them whilst standing in front of ‘real life’ art

Wrap Up Your Painting

  • Is this a painting you would normally have chosen to look at? Why is that?
  • Do you feel the painting captures the violence of a storm at sea? Why?
  • Do you feel differently about the painting now, as compared to when you started the guided activity? If so, in what way?
  • Did the story about Turner being lashed to the mast of a storm-tossed boat change your feelings about this painting in any way?
  • Did this activity help you to slow down, take time out? If you enjoyed it, why not try more listening guides and make them a part of your week?