Snow Storm: Steam-Boat off a Harbour's Mouth William Turner Buy Art Prints Now
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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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William Turner painted Snow Storm: Steam-Boat off a Harbour's Mouth in 1842. It remains one of his most famous paintings.

The painting shows a steam-boat on rough water in the centre of the painting, that is surrounded by the enclosing and catastrophic snow storm, This painting dates back to Turner's Romantic era. The natural beauty of the steam-boat is enhanced by the powerful and disruptive cruel weather that surrounds it. Snow Storm is painted in oils, as opposed to Turner's earlier works that were created in watercolours. The techniques he used as a water colourist, were applied to his later oil paintings.

Snow Storm is depicted in hues of blues, greys and whites, a technique that Turner was well known for, that of using layers of colours to bring his artwork to life. The careful brush strokes can also be observed, that help to add texture to the scene, while also helping to bring the image of Snow Storm to life. The icy sea, sky and snow, all seem to blur and become one. The steam-boat at the centre of the painting almost appears to be trapped in a cyclone of pure energy, that has been captured by the enclosing storm. Snow scenes have inspired artists from all generations and movements, including Caspar David Friedrich and Ansel Adams (Oak Tree Snow Storm).

The light in the sky is that of a light silver, and draws the eye to the image of the steam-boat. What is also interesting is the smoke that emerges from the steam-boat, that rises into the sky, creating shapes almost like the clouds. The use of the steam from the steam-boat also helps to create balance, as they mirror the crashing waves at the bottom of the painting. During the artistic Romantic period of the 1800s, the subject of natural disasters and, in particular those that featured shipwrecks, were incredibly popular. The artists of this era, including Turner, painted the true events of he day, that were somehow made to appear slightly mythical in nature.

It would therefore appear that Snow Storm was a natural choice of subject matter for Turner, who painted the steam-boat that was in dire danger off the English coast. As an observer, we view the image of the struggling steak-boat with both wonderment and unease. See also Snow Storm: Hannibal and his Army Crossing the Alps, another fine work from this artist with a similar theme for inspiration. The seas had always interested Turner, where aggressively waves could place humans in peril and he found a similar atmosphere with snow storms, which then allowed him to deliver all of the emotional scenes which have proven so inspirational to so many artists who followed on in the 19th and 20th centuries.