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Joseph Mallord William Turner, 1775–1851

A Paddle-steamer in a Storm

Former Title(s):

Steam Boat and Storm

Additional Title(s):

Steamboat in a Storm

Steamboat in a storm

ca. 1841
Materials & Techniques:
Watercolor, graphite and scratching out on medium, slightly textured, cream wove paper
Sheet: 9 1/8 x 11 3/8 inches (23.2 x 28.9 cm)

Inscribed in graphite, verso, upper center: "B 2"

Credit Line:
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Copyright Status:
Public Domain
Accession Number:
Drawings & Watercolors
Prints and Drawings
Subject Terms:
air | clouds | clouds | lake | lightning | marine art | marine art | meteorology | movement | rain | science | smoke | steamboat | steamboats | storm | technology | wind
Associated Places:
Europe | Hebrides | Hebrides, Sea of the | Lucerne, Lake | Scotland | United Kingdom
Accessible by appointment in the Study Room [Request]
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IIIF Manifest:

Turner was deeply interested in modern technology and particularly fascinated by steamboats, which appealed to him for both aesthetic and practical reasons. First introduced in Britain in 1801, the steamboat was established as a form of public transportation in 1812 and rapidly became widespread. Turner made frequent sketching tours in Britain and on the Continent, and the development of steam navigation enabled him to travel more widely and rapidly. The artist was often exercised by the problem of depicting “the wavy air, as some call the wind,” as he noted in one of his sketchbooks; the black smoke produced by steamboats, however, enabled Turner to track the movement of air currents in addition to offering a vehicle for articulating a new poetics of modernity (Taft, 2001). The steamship recurred frequently in Turner’s work from the early 1820s, often apparently celebrating technological progress, though appearing sinister or even demonic, and sometimes pitted against the forces of nature. Critics were initially skeptical about the appropriateness of steamboats as a subject for art, but by 1836 a writer in the “Quarterly Review” was praising Turner for introducing “a new instance of the beautiful” (Rodner, 1997, p. 45). In this drawing the steamer is shown sailing heroically in a menacing storm, the extremity of the weather underscored by Turner's bravura use of scratching out to denote the flash of lightning and the foam under the steamer’s paddles. Both the date and the subject of this bold and atmospheric watercolor are uncertain. Andrew Wilton has plausibly suggested that the location is the Lake of Lucerne (Wilton, “Turner”, 1980, p. 183); Judy Egerton has less convincingly connected the drawing to Turner’s 1830 visit to Staffa, and a third possibility is that the drawing is a view of the Lagoon and relates to his 1840 stay in Venice. Technically, the watercolor is similar to Turner’s work of the early 1840s, and this dating seems most likely.

Gillian Forrester

Baskett, John, Jules David Prown, Duncan Robinson, Brian Allen, and William Reese. Paul Mellon's Legacy: A Passion for British Art. New Haven : Yale Center for British Art , 2007, cat. no. 94

Unto this Last: Two Hundred Years of John Ruskin (Yale Center for British Art, 2019-09-05 - 2019-12-08) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition] [Exhibition Description]

An American's Passion for British Art - Paul Mellon's Legacy (Royal Academy of Arts, 2007-10-20 - 2008-01-27) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Paul Mellon's Legacy : A Passion for British Art (Yale Center for British Art, 2007-04-18 - 2007-07-29) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition] [Exhibition Description]

An American's Passion for British Art - Paul Mellon's Legacy (Yale Center for British Art, 2007-04-18 - 2007-07-29) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Behold the Sea (Yale Center for British Art, 2003-06-14 - 2003-09-07) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition] [Exhibition Description]

Turner 1996 (National Gallery of Victoria, 1996-06-23 - 1996-09-09) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Turner 1996 (National Gallery of Australia, 1996-03-17 - 1996-06-10) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Turner and the Sublime (British Museum, 1981-05-15 - 1981-09-20) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Turner and the Sublime (Yale Center for British Art, 1981-02-11 - 1981-04-19) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Turner and the Sublime (Art Gallery of Ontario, 1980-11-01 - 1981-01-04) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

English Landscape (Paul Mellon Collection) 1630-1850 (Yale Center for British Art, 1977-04-19 - 1977-07-17) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Timothy J. Barringer, Unto this last : two hundred years of John Ruskin, Yale University Press, New Haven, CT, p. 205, cat. 42, NJ18.R895 .B37 2019 (LC) Oversize (YCBA) [YCBA]

John Baskett, Paul Mellon's Legacy: a Passion for British Art: Masterpieces from the Yale Center for British Art, , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2007, pp. 285-86, no. 93, pl. 93, N5220 M552 P38 2007 OVERSIZE (YCBA) [YCBA]

Michael Lloyd, Turner, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 1996, pp. 52, 235, no. 85, NJ18 T85 L57 1996 + (YCBA) [YCBA]

Paul Mellon's Legacy : a passion for British art [large print labels], , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2007, v. 2, no. 93, N5220 M552 P381 2007 OVERSIZE (YCBA) [YCBA]

William S. Rodner, J.M.W. Turner, romantic painter of the industrial revolution , University of California Press, Berkeley, Calif., 1997, p. 45, ND497 T85 R63 1997 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Simon Schama, The Yale Centre for British Art, TLS, the Times Literary Supplement, , May 20, 1977, p. 620, TLS Historical Archive [ORBIS]

Tony Smibert, Turner's Apprentice : a watercolour class, Thames and Hudson, p. 35r, NJ18.T85 S65 2020 Oversize (YCBA) [YCBA]

Andrew Wilton, The life and work of J.M.W. Turner, Academy Editions, London, 1979, p. 478, No. 1484, NJ18 T85 +W577 OVERSIZE (YCBA) [YCBA]

Andrew Wilton, Turner and the sublime, British Museum Publications, London, 1980, pp. 183-84, no. 113, NJ18 T85 W579 OVERSIZE (YCBA) [YCBA]

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