abstracted image of clouds, rain and waves, with washes of grey and blue

A Storm at Sea, c. 1819-1831

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J. M. W. Turner’s ecstatic relationship to sublime nature comes alive as the deft strokes of his brush capture the changes of mood in the varying light of the turbulent scene. This personal notation, which Turner called a “colour beginning,” was not meant for public dissemination and borders on pure abstraction. Its open center evokes Turner’s spiritual interpretation of light. Far removed from the tightly executed, picturesque works that typified British watercolors of the early 1800s, Storm at Sea, presages the freedom, immediacy, abstraction, and mysticism that became central to art produced by later generations.

We do not know precisely when Turner executed Storm at Sea, but in all likelihood he used it to give structure to his oil painting, Staffa, Fingal’s Cave, 1831-32. Turner may have painted Storm at Sea years earlier than the oil.

A Storm at Sea
Artist Life
Accession Number
Arthur James Balfour, 1st Earl of Balfour (1848-1930, London and Whittingehame House, East Lothian); by descent until 1986; sold to private collector (1986-2008); sold Christie's, London, June 4, 2008, lot 27; to Wyld; [W/S Wyld Fine Art, London; 2008-d. 2011; his sale, Christie's, London, July 10, 2012, no. 90; to Ongpin; [Stephen Ongpin Fine Art, London, 2012-2014; sold to MIA]
Curator Approved

This record has been reviewed by our curatorial staff but may be incomplete. These records are frequently revised and enhanced. If you notice a mistake or have additional information about this object, please email collectionsdata@artsmia.org.

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abstracted image of clouds, rain and waves, with washes of grey and blue