These images remind me of William Turner’s work and in particular his painting of the Snow Storm – Steam Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth (1842). See weblink below:
Turner claimed that he had been strapped to the mast of a steamboat called Ariel and experienced the storm first-hand for about four hours. Although, this account has since been questioned as there is no record of a boat of this name sailing from Harwich and Turner would have been 65 at the time of his adventure. Whatever the truth of the story, Turner’s abstract landscapes give a sense of the movement and turbulence of the scene he is painting. The colour palette of the Snow Storm – charcoal, grey and oranges adds to the spectacle and a feeling of foreboding, and the swirling plume of smoke coming from the funnel adds to the feeling of extreme movement.
The use of abstraction in landscape art to emphasise or enhance the feeling of being “in” the picture, was unconventional and Turner’s paintings received a mixed response. However, one of his greatest supporters was John Ruskin, the art critic, who said of the Snow Storm that it was:
“one of the very grandest statements of sea-motion, mist, and light, that has ever been put on canvas” (Ruskin 1867 p359).
However, in historical terms, rather than influencing British art his impact was felt through the Impressionists movement, through the likes of Claude Monet, who experimented with different techniques such as abstraction and the representation of light.
I have spoken in two previous posts about the inspiration of Nan Shepherd and Patricia Townsend, and I will now turn to how William Turner has influenced me:
- Whether or not Turner did lash himself to the mast of a ship to head out in a storm is immaterial to me as it is his sense of adventure and gay abandon for the artistic traditions of the time that I find inspiring.
- Through this sense of adventure comes a willingness to play with the paintbrush rather than seeking a literal representation of the scene.
- I also subscribe to his recognition and understanding that an artist must experience that which they are seeking to represent or refer to. And in this context, I use the word represent in its loosest sense to encompass that beyond what we see. Turner, like Shepherd, accesses and references all his senses in creating his art – the mighty and rolling waves, the turbulent movement of the steamboat and even the terrific noise of the storm can all be accessed through his painting. And his movement through the brush echoes the tempestuous sea on that night.
- His use of abstraction to convey what it was like to “Be” in the storm that night also appeals to me. It seems that he uses this approach to encourage the viewer to go beyond the literal representation at the time and experience something “more than” what the stormy sea looked like.
- And finally, Turner visited Loch Coruisk on Skye in 1831 and completed some pencil drawings now held in the Tate. The watercolour was not an exact depiction of what he sketched. In typical Turner style he created a tempestuous sky above the mountains, not surprising however on Skye, and depicted himself and a companion as tiny forms in the foreground of the painting, alluding to the power of nature over the human world. A link to the painting is below: https://www.nationalgalleries.org/art-and-artists/19217#:~:text=Turner%20travelled%20to%20the%20Isle,relate%20exactly%20to%20this%20watercolour.
Ruskin, John. Modern Painters. Volume 1. containing Parts I and II. Of general principles and Of truth. (London: Smith, Elder and Co. 1867), p. 357.