In the year 1842 this picture was thus described by Turner in the Academy Catalogue:
"Snowstorm. Steamboat off the harbour mouth making signals, and going by the lead. The author* was in this storm the night the Ariel left Harwich."
* Note Turner's significant use of this word, instead of "artist."
It was characterized by some of the critics of the day as a mass of "soapsuds and whitewash." Turner was passing the evening at my father's house on the day this criticism came out: and after dinner, sitting in his arm-chair by the fire, I heard him muttering low to himself at intervals, "Soapsuds and whitewash!" again, and again, and again. At last I went to him, asking "why he minded what they said?" Then he burst out, "Soapsuds and whitewash! What would they have? I wonder what they think the sea's like ? I wish they'd been in it."
The following anecdote respecting this picture, and the conversation with Turner which arose out of the circumstance, were communicated to me by my friend the Rev. W. Kingsley, of Sidney College, Cambridge. I give simply the words of his letter: there can be no need of insisting, in any wise, on the singular value of the record they contain.
"The story I told you about the 'Snowstorm' was this: I had taken my mother and a cousin to see Turner's pictures, and, as my mother knows nothing about art, I was taking her down the gallery to look at the large 'Richmond Park,' but as we were passing the 'Snowstorm' she stopped before it, and I could hardly get her to look at any other picture; and she told me a great deal more about it than I had any notion of, though I have seen many sea storms. She had been in such a scene on the coast of Holland during the war. When, some time afterwards, I thanked Turner for his permission for her to see his pictures, I told him that he would not guess which had caught my mother's fancy, and then named the picture; and he then said, 'I did not paint it to be understood, but I wished to show what such a scene was like; I got the sailors to lash me to the mast to observe it; I was lashed for four hours, and I did not expect to escape, but I felt bound to record it if I did. But no one had any business to like the picture.' 'But,' said I, ' my mother once went through just such a scene, and it brought it all back to her. 'Is your mother a painter?' 'No.' 'Then she ought to have been thinking of something else.' These were nearly his words; I observed at the time he used 'record' and 'painting,' as the title 'author' had struck me before."
Interesting, however, as this picture is, in marking how far the sense of foaming mystery, and blinding whiteness of surf and salt, now influenced Turner's conception of the sea, rather than the old theories of black clouds relieving terminated edges of waves, the sea is, however, even thus, not quite right: it is not yeasty enough: the linear wave-action is still too much dwelt upon, and confused with the true foam.