Stanfield had an adventurous life. As a boy he was apprenticed to a coach painter but in 1806 he ran away to sea and was pressed into the Navy two years later. Discharged on health grounds in 1814, he voyaged to China on an Indiaman, returning with many sketches. He then worked as a scene painter for the London theatre, made spectacular dioramas with his friend David Roberts, and eventually became one of Britain’s best-known marine painters. He portrayed the sea, which he loved and profoundly understood, with powerfully dramatic compositions and light effects.