Joseph Mallord William Turner (23 April 1775–19December 1851) was an English Romantic landscapepainter, watercolourist and printmaker. Turner wasconsidered a controversial figure in his day, but is nowregarded as the artist who elevated landscape painting to aneminence rivalling history painting. Although renowned forhis oil paintings, Turner is also one of the greatest masters ofBritish watercolour landscape painting. He is commonlyknown as "the painter of light" and his work is regarded as aRomantic preface to Impressionism. Turner was born in Maiden Lane, CoventGarden, London, England. His father, William Turner(1738–7 August 1829), was a barber and wig maker. Hismother, Mary Marshall, became increasingly mentallyunstable, possibly due in part to the early death of Turnersyounger sister, Mary Ann Turner, in 1786. Mary Marshalldied in 1804, after having been committed in 1799 to St Self-Portrait at the Age of SixteenLukes Hospital and then to the Bethlem Royal Hospital, amental asylum otherwise known as "Bedlam".
Possibly due to the load placed on the family by these problems, the young Turner was sent tostay with his maternal uncle, Joseph Mallord William Marshall, in Brentford in 1785, which wasthen a small town west of London on the banks of the River Thames.It was here that he first expressed an interestin painting. A year later he attended a schoolin Margate on the north-east Kent coast. Bythis time he had created manydrawings, which his father exhibited in hisshop window. He entered the Royal Academy of Artschools in 1789, when he was only 14 yearsold, and was accepted into the academy a yearlater. Sir Joshua Reynolds, president of theRoyal Academy, chaired the panel thatadmitted him. At first Turner showed a keeninterest in architecture but was advised to Warkworth Castle, Northumberland - Thunder Stormcontinue painting by the architect Approaching at Sun-Set. 1799Thomas Hardwick (junior). A watercolour by Turner was accepted for the Summer Exhibition of 1790after only one years study. He exhibited his first oil painting in 1796, Fishermen at Sea, and thereafterexhibited at the academy nearly every year for the rest of his life.
Turner travelled widely in Europe, starting with France and Switzerland in 1802 and studyingin the Louvre in Paris in the same year. He also made many visits to Venice. On a visit to Lyme Regis, in Dorset, England, he painted a stormy scene (now in the Cincinnati Art Museum). Important support for his work also came from Walter Ramsden Fawkes, of Farnley Hall, near Otley in Yorkshire, who became a close friend of the artist. Turner first visited Otley in 1797, aged 22, when commissioned to paint watercolours of the area. He was so attracted to Otley and the surrounding area that he returned to it throughout his career. The stormy backdrop of Hannibal Crossing The Alps is reputed to have been London. 1809. inspired by a storm over Otleys Chevin while Turner was staying at Farnley Hall.
Turner was also a frequent guest of GeorgeOBrien Wyndham, 3rd Earl of Egremont atPetworth House in West Sussex and paintedscenes that Egremont funded taken from thegrounds of the house and of the Sussexcountryside, including a view of the ChichesterCanal. Petworth House still displays a number ofpaintings. Turners talent was recognized early in his life.Financial independence allowed Turner toinnovate freely; his mature work is characterizedby a chromatic palette and broadly appliedatmospheric washes of paint. According to DavidPipers The Illustrated History of Art, his laterpictures were called "fantastic puzzles."However, Turner was still recognized as anartistic genius: the influential English art criticJohn Ruskin described Turner as the artist whocould most "stirringly and truthfully measure themoods of Nature." Crossing the Brook. 1815.
Suitable vehicles for Turners imagination were to be found in the subjects of shipwrecks, fires(such as the burning of Parliament in 1834, an event which Turner rushed to witness first-hand, and which he transcribed in a series of watercolour sketches), natural catastrophes, and natural phenomena such as sunlight, storm, rain, and fog. He was fascinated by the violent power of the sea, as seen in Dawn after the Wreck (1840) and The Slave Ship (1840). Turners major venture into printmaking was the Liber Studiorum (Book of Studies), a set of seventy prints that the artist worked on from 1806 to 1819. The The Decline of the Carthaginian Empire. 1817. Liber Studiorum was an expression of his intentions for landscape art.
Loosely based on Claude Lorrains Liber Veritatis (Book of Truth), the plates were meant to bewidely disseminated, and categorized the genre into six types:Marine, Mountainous, Pastoral, Historical, Architectural, and Elevated or Epic Pastoral. Hisprintmaking was a major part of his output, and a whole museum is devoted to it, the TurnerMuseum in Sarasota, Florida, founded in 1974 by Douglass Montrose-Graem to house his collectionof Turner prints. Rome, from the Vatican, Raffaelle, Accompanied by La Fornarina, Preparing His Pictures for the Decoration of the Loggia. 1820.
Turner placed human beings in many of his paintings to indicate his affection for humanity onthe one hand (note the frequent scenes of people drinking and merry-making or working in theforeground), but its vulnerability and vulgarity amid the sublime nature of the world on the otherhand. Sublime here meansawe-inspiring, savage grandeur, anatural world unmastered byman, evidence of the power of God–a theme that artists and poets wereexploring in this period. Thesignificance of light was to Turnerthe emanation of Gods spirit andthis was why he refined the subjectmatter of his later paintings byleaving out solid objects anddetail, concentrating on the play oflight on water, the radiance of skies Childe Harolds Pilgrimage. 1823.and fires.Although these late paintings appear to be impressionistic and therefore a forerunner of the Frenchschool, Turner was striving for expression of spirituality in the world, rather than responding primarilyto optical phenomena.
His early works, such as Tintern Abbey (1795), stayed true to the traditions of English landscape.However, in Hannibal Crossing the Alps (1812), an emphasis on the destructive power of nature had already come into play. His distinctive style of painting, in which he used watercolour technique with oil paints, created lightness, fluency, and ephemeral atmospheric effects. One popular story about Turner, though it likely has little basis in reality, states that he even had himself "tied to the mast of a ship in order to experience the drama" of the elements during a storm at sea. In his later years he used oils ever Rivaulx Abbey, Yorkshire. c. 1825. more transparently, and turned to an evocation of almost pure light by use of shimmering colour.
A prime example of his mature style can be seen in Rain, Steam and Speed - The Great WesternRailway, where the objects are barely recognizable.The intensity of hue and interestin evanescent light not onlyplaced Turners work in thevanguard of English painting, butlater exerted an influence upon artin France, as well; theImpressionists, particularlyClaude Monet, carefully studiedhis techniques. High levels of ash in theatmosphere during 1816 the "YearWithout a Summer", led tounusually spectacular sunsetsduring this period, and were aninspiration for some of Turnerswork. Mortlake Terrace Early Summer Morning. c. 1826.
John Ruskin says in his "Notes" on Turner in March 1878, that an early patron, Dr Thomas Monro, the Principal Physician of Bedlam, was a significant influence on Turners style: His true master was Dr Monro; to the practical teaching of that first patron and the wise simplicity of method of watercolour study, in which he was disciplined by him and companioned by Giston, the healthy and constant development of the greaterAlnwick Castle, Northumberland. c.1825-1828. power is primarily to be attributed; the greatness of the power itself, it is impossible to over-estimate.
On one of his trips to Europe he met the Irish physician Robert James Graves. Graves wastravelling in a diligence in the Alps when a man who looked like the mate of a ship got in, satbeside him, and soon took from hispocket a note-book across which hishand from time to time passed withthe rapidity of lightning. Graveswondered if the man was insane, helooked, saw that the stranger had beennoting the forms of clouds as theypassed and that he was no commonartist. The two travelled and sketchedtogether for months. Graves tells thatTurner would outline a scene, sit doingnothing for two or three days, thensuddenly, "perhaps on the third day hewould exclaim there it is, and seizinghis colours work rapidly till he had Cowes, Isle of Wight. c.1827.noted down the peculiar effect hewished to fix in his memory."
The first American to buy a Turner painting was James Lenox of New York City, a private collector. Lenox wished to own a Turner and in 1845 bought one unseen through an intermediary, his friend C. R. Leslie. From among the paintings Turner had on hand and was willing to sell for £500, Leslie selected and shipped the 1832 atmospheric seascape Staffa, Fingals Cave. Worried about the paintings reception by Lenox, who knew Turners work only through his etchings, Leslie wrote Lenox that the quality of Staffa, "a Carisbrook Castle, Isle of Wight. c.1828. most poetic picture of a steam boat" would become apparent in time. Upon receivingthe painting Lenox was baffled, and "greatly disappointed" by what he called the paintings"indistinctness". When Leslie was forced to relay this opinion to Turner, Turner said "You should tellMr. Lenox that indistinctness is my forte." Staffa, Fingals Cave is currently owned by the YaleCenter for British Art, New Haven, Connecticut.
As he grew older, Turner became more eccentric. He had few close friends except for hisfather, who lived with him for 30 years, eventually working as his studio assistant. His fathersdeath in 1829 had a profound effect on him, and thereafter he was subject to bouts of depression.He never married but had a relationship with an older widow, Sarah Danby. He is believed to havebeen the father of her two daughters born in 1801 and 1811. Chichester Canal. c.1828.
He died in the house of his mistress Sophia Caroline Booth in Cheyne Walk, Chelsea on 19 December1851. He is said to have uttered the last words "The sun is God" before expiring. At his request he wasburied in St Pauls Cathedral, where helies next to Sir Joshua Reynolds. Hislast exhibition at the Royal Academywas in 1850. The architect Philip Hardwick(1792–1870) who was a friend ofTurners and also the son of the artiststutor, Thomas Hardwick, was in chargeof making his funeral arrangements andwrote to those who knew Turner to tellthem at the time of his deaththat, "I must inform you, we have losthim." Other active executors were his Bridge of Sighs, Ducal Palace and Custom-cousin and executor, and chief mourner House, Venice: Canaletti Painting. 1833.at the funeral, Henry Harpur IV(benefactor of Westminster - now Chelsea & Westminster - Hospital), Revd. Henry ScottTrimmer, George Jones RA and Charles Turner ARA.
Turner left a small fortune which he hoped would be used to support what he called "decayed artists".He planned and designed an almshouse for them at Twickenham with a gallery for some of his works. His will was contested and in 1856, after a court battle, part of his fortune was awarded to his first cousins including Thomas Price Turner. Another portion of the money went to the Royal Academy of Arts, which does not now use it for this purpose, though occasionally it awards students the Turner Medal. His collection of finished paintings was bequeathed to the British nation, and he intended that a special gallery would be built to house them. This did not come to pass owing to a The Grand Canal, Venice. 1835. failure to agree on a site, and then to the parsimony of British governments.
Twenty-two years after his death, the British Parliament passed an Act allowing his paintings tobe lent to museums outside London, and so began the process of scattering the pictures which Turnerhad wanted to be kept together.In 1910 the main part of the TurnerBequest, which includes unfinishedpaintings and drawings, wasrehoused in the Duveen TurnerWing at the Tate Gallery. In 1987a new wing of the Tate, the CloreGallery, was opened specifically tohouse the Turner bequest, thoughsome of the most importantpaintings in it remain in theNational Gallery in contraventionof Turners condition that thefinished pictures be kept and showntogether. Increasingly paintings arelent abroad, ignoring Turners Flint Castle. 1838.provision that they be kept"constantly" in Turners Gallery.
On July 7, 2010, Turners final painting of Rome, ―Modern Rome — Campo Vaccino‖, from 1839, was bought by the J. Paul Getty Museum at a Sotheby’s auction in London for $44.9 million. In January 2011 The Painter, a biographical play on his life by Rebecca Lenkiewicz, premiered at the Arcola Theatre in London. Between 1 October 2007 and 21 September 2008, the first major exhibit of Turners works in the United States in over forty years came to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the National Gallery of Art, Washington, and theThe Fighting Temeraire Tugged to Her Last Berth to Be Broken up. 1838. Dallas Museum of Art. It included over 140 paintings, more than half of which were from the Tate.
The "Turner and his painters" exhibition (Tate Britain, London, 23 September 2009 to 31 January2010, Paris, Grand Palais, 22 February to 24 May 2010) retraces and illustrates the development ofTurners very personal vision, through the many chance or deliberate, but always opportune andenriching interaction thatinfluenced his remarkable career.Nearly 100 paintings and othergraphic works (studies andengravings) from major British andAmerican collections, as well as theLouvre and the Prado will be onshow. On July 7, 2010, Turners finalpainting of Rome, ―Modern Rome— Campo Vaccino‖, from1839, was bought by the J. PaulGetty Museum at a Sotheby’sauction in London for$44.9 million. In January 2011The Painter, a biographical play onhis life by Rebecca Ancient Rome; Agrippina Landing with the Ashes ofLenkiewicz, premiered at the Germanicus. 1839.Arcola Theatre in London.
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