One of the truly iconic painters who has ever lived . His style of painting has been so influential in various areas including Hudson River Valley and even motion picture visualization today. He deserves increased recognition as the “master of light”.
.Joseph Mallord William Turner RA (23 April 1775 – 19 December 1851) was an English Romantic landscape painter, watercolourist and printmaker. Turner was considered a controversial figure in his day, but is now regarded as the artist who elevated landscape painting to an eminence rivaling history painting. Although renowned for his oil paintings, Turner is also one of the greatest masters of British watercolour landscape painting. He is commonly known as “the painter of light” and his work is regarded as a Romantic preface to Impressionism.
Joseph Mallord William Turner was born on or around the 23 April 1775 in Maiden Lane, Covent Garden, London, England.His father, William Turner (1738–7 August 1829), was a barber and wig maker,His mother, Mary Marshall, came from a family of butchers. A younger sister, Mary Ann Turner, was born in September 1778 but died aged four in August 1783.
In 1785, as a result of a “fit of illness” in the family the young Turner was sent to stay with his maternal uncle, Joseph Mallord William Marshall, in Brentford, which was then a small town west of London on the banks of the River Thames. From this period, the earliest known artistic exercise by Turner is found, a series of simple colourings of engraved plates from Henry Boswell’s Picturesque View of the Antiquities of England and Wales. Around 1786, Turner was sent to Margate on the north-east Kent coast. Here Turner produced a series of early drawings of the town and surrounding area foreshadowing his later work. Turner would return to Margate many times in later life. By this time, Turner’s drawings were already being exhibited in his father’s shop window and sold for a few shillings each. His father boasted to the artist Thomas Stothard that: “My son, sir, is going to be a painter”. In 1789 Turner again stayed with his uncle, who by this time had retired to Sunningwell in Oxford. A whole sketchbook of work from his time in Oxford survives, as well as an early watercolour of Oxford. The use of pencil sketches on location as a basis for later finished paintings would form the basis of Turner’s essential working style for his whole career.
Many of the early sketches by Turner were studies of Architecture and/or exercises in perspective and it is known that the young Turner worked for several architects including Thomas Hardwick (junior), James Wyatt andBonomi the Elder. By the end of 1789 he had also begun to study under the topographical draughtsman Thomas Malton, whom Turner would later call “My real master”. He entered the Royal Academy of Art schools in 1789, when he was only 14 years old, and was accepted into the academy a year later. Sir Joshua Reynolds, president of the Royal Academy, chaired the panel that admitted him. At first Turner showed a keen interest in architecture but was advised to continue painting by the architect Thomas Hardwick (junior). His first watercolour A View of the Archbishop’s Palace, Lambeth was accepted for the Summer Exhibition of 1790 when Turner was only 15.
As a probationer in the Academy, he was taught drawing (not painting) from plaster casts of antique sculptures and his name appears in the registry of the Academy over a hundred times from July 1790 to October 1793. In June 1792 he was admitted to the life class to learn to draw the human body from nude models.Turner continued to exhibit watercolours each year at the Academy – travelling in the summer and painting in the winter. He travelled widely throughout Britain, particularly to Wales, and produced a wide range of sketches for working up into studies and watercolours. These particularly focused on architectural work, which utilised his skills as a draughtsman. In 1793, he showed a watercolour with the title The Rising Squall – Hot Wells from St Vincent’s Rock Bristol (now lost) that foreshadowed his later climatic effects. Cunningham in his obituary of Turner wrote that it was: “recognised by the wiser few as a nobel attempt at lift in landscape art out of the tame insipidities…[and] for the fist time that mastery of effect for which he is now justly celebrated.”
Turner exhibited his first oil painting at the Academy in 1796, Fishermen at Sea. A nocturnal moonlit scene, the image of boats in peril contrasts the cold light of the moon with the firelight glow of the fishermen’s lantern. Wilton has said that the image: “Is a summary of all that had been said about the sea by the artists of the eighteenth century.” and shows strong influenced by artists such as Horace Vernet Philip James de Loutherbourg and Willem van de Velde the Younger. The image was praised by contemporary critics and would found Turner’s reputation, both as an oil painter and as a painter of maritime scenes.
Turner travelled widely in Europe, starting with France and Switzerland in 1802 and studying in 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 inspired by a storm over Otley’s Chevin while Turner was staying at Farnley Hall.
As he grew older, Turner became more eccentric. He had few close friends except for his father, who lived with him for 30 years, eventually working as his studio assistant. His father’s death 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 have been the father of her two daughters born in 1801 and 1811.
He died in the house of his mistress Sophia Caroline Booth in Cheyne Walk, Chelsea on 19 December 1851. He is said to have uttered the last words “The sun is God” before expiring. At his request he was buried inSt Paul’s Cathedral, where he lies next to Sir Joshua Reynolds. His last exhibition at the Royal Academy was in 1850.
The architect Philip Hardwick (1792–1870) who was a friend of Turner’s and also the son of the artist’s tutor, Thomas Hardwick, was in charge of making his funeral arrangements and wrote to those who knew Turner to tell them at the time of his death that, “I must inform you, we have lost him.” Other active executors were his cousin and executor, and chief mourner at the funeral, Henry Harpur IV (benefactor of Westminster – now Chelsea & Westminster – Hospital), Revd. Henry Scott Trimmer, George Jones RA and Charles Turner ARA.
Turner was also a frequent guest of George O’Brien Wyndham, 3rd Earl of Egremont at Petworth House in West Sussex and painted scenes that Egremont funded taken from the grounds of the house and of the Sussex countryside, including a view of the Chichester Canal. Petworth House still displays a number of paintings.