Rockets and Blue Lights (Close at Hand) to Warn Steamboats of Shoal Water
Joseph Mallord William Turner
Oil on canvas
This dramatic painting is an excellent example of Turner's interest in the sea and its uncontrollable power. On the left of the painting waves crash onto the shore and up against a harbor wall while exploding rockets and blue lights warn passing ships of the dangers they might encounter in these treacherous conditions. On the far right we can just make out the frail-looking mast of a sailboat in trouble, battered by the waves. In the center of the canvas another vessel can be seen, a steamer whose funnel belches smoke that curls up like a tornado into the stormy sky. Turner focuses our attention on the waves and the smoke and the spray, but on the left-hand edge of the painting he has also included two groups of figures -- a line of men struggling to salvage something from the waves and a ragged assortment of onlookers staring anxiously and helplessly at the approaching storm.