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

A Storm at Sea, c. 1819-1831

J. M. W. Turner called sketches like this one “colour beginnings.” He would return to them, sometimes years later, to seek inspiration for his larger oil paintings.

The sight of a storm churning up a choppy, swelling sea surged straight into Turner’s heart. He recorded the scene—perhaps more accurately, the emotion—with his brushes and diluted colors. Though small and quickly executed, Storm at Sea embodies many of the qualities that made Turner a towering figure in British art. His ecstatic relationship with sublime nature is expressed through the deft brushstrokes that capture the changes of mood in the varying light of this turbulent scene.

A personal notation not meant for public view, Storm at Sea 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 19th century, Storm at Sea presages much that became central to art produced by later generations.

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

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