Shipwrecks and other disasters at sea were a recurrent theme in Romantic painting. They demonstrated the primal force of the elements, a nightmare for all who travelled far from home. Turner retained a lifelong passion for the sea. We don't know whether this painting was inspired by an actual shipwreck, or the reissue in 1804 of a famous poem on the theme by William Falconer. Turner defines the essence of such an experience through overwhelming impressions of realism and horror. The dark tonality, characteristic of Turner's early paintings, provides a foil to the white crests and swirls of the waves.