Turner was the greatest English landscape painter, and one of the most successful and influential. His most distinctive works, such as The Fighting Temeraire tugged to her Last Berth to be broken up, 1838 and Rain, Steam and Speed – The Great Western Railway, are still much-loved and admired. Of humble origins and with an eccentric personality, his extraordinary talent and ambition took him to the top of his profession, in which he combined a love of nature with a belief in the ability of landscape painting to carry serious and noble meanings. The full extent of his work can be seen in the Tate gallery.
Joseph Mallord William Turner, known as William but now called J. M. W. to distinguish him from another artist of the same name, was the son of a barber. He was born in the heart of commercial London, in Maiden Lane, near Covent Garden market, probably in early May 1775. His father encouraged his early artistic talent, but his mother’s illness caused him to stay with his uncle in Middlesex, and it was there and with other relatives that he started to draw from nature.
In all these it is colour, light and atmosphere that dominate, held together by Turner’s striking sense of design and composition.
In 1789, at the age of 14, he enrolled at the Royal Academy schools; a year later his first exhibit at the Royal Academy was hung, a
The 1790s, therefore, were taken up by his extensive tours of England and Wales, filling sketchbooks with beautiful drawings and
Turner’s own skills and his awareness of other artists’ work grew as he visited his patrons’ country house collections – there was no national gallery at this time. Alongside his study of the picturesque British landscape, he absorbed the lessons of the
Turner’s work was now not just topographical but also classical and romantic. It was based on the intense study of nature, its landscape, vegetation
Foreign travel was increasingly important to Turner at this time: Switzerland for its dramatic and romantic scenery, as in The Pass of St Gotthard, and Italy for its long classical and Renaissance history and culture, for instance, Rome, from the Vatican. The varied scenery of French rivers, dramatic alpine mountains
Turner’s bequest of his studio contents to the nation on his death in 1851 revealed in his
Andrew Greg, National Inventory Research Project, University of Glasgow