The inspiration behind this painting was a book published, by the title The History of Abolition of Slave Trade. The book, written by Thomas Clarkson, tells of an event that happened in 1783.
It included a ship that harboured slaves. The so called captain of that ship was being compensated by an insurance company.
But the insurance covered for the slaves that were lost at sea, not the apparent sick ones that died on board. In order to get full compensation, the captain ordered all the sick slaves jump off the ship.
It is at this point that we can fully relate to the former title. Turner was greatly moved by the cruel events that took place on that ship and he decided to lay it all out in waves of emotions.
In this painting, Turner does not use a well-defined paint brush. Instead, his strokes appear blurry and less specific, such that the viewer is prompted to use his/her imagination.
This is a Turner signature, a typical Romantic art. Like any other painter, he focuses or rather hints at one particular aspect. Here the aspect of nature is clearly brought out by the distinct ocean and sky strokes, it doesn't matter that the painting is about the ship.
He used a variety of colour shades on the painting, but at the first glance, one can easily notice that dark red/maroon is more conspicuous than any other.
Perhaps to emphasize the bodies of the deceased slaves. After that, comes the red, yellow and orange colours, all mashed up to imitate a beautiful sunset. The general use of colour gives a warm and sombre scene, all too vivid.
The ocean, being a major aspect, is portrayed fiercely with huge and daring waves. It looks tired from carrying the burden of all those dead slaves, daring as it is, it still comes across as helpless.
According to Turner's view, we can assume, he felt that the ship was somewhat like a curse to humans and all their wrong doings. It was meant to be an act of punishment.
With all that to swallow, we still have to acknowledge that in the background, it all seems peaceful, as nature should be.