J. M. W. Turner

1775 - 1851 · United Kingdom

Artist biography

Joseph Mallord William Turner, known professionally as J. M. W. Turner or William Turner, was an English Romantic painter who is best known for his dramatic landscape and maritime paintings. Turner is today considered to be one of the great British painters, and has been described as the ‘father of modern art’. His work has inspired generations of artists and continues to be popular with contemporary audiences.

Born in 1775 in London, Turner showed signs of artistic talent from a very young age. He enrolled at the Royal Academy of Art at the age of 14, and developed a successful career with relative ease. He was helped by a number of wealthy patrons who were willing to buy, commission, and provide assistance so that Turner could pursue an artistic career, even funding his travels and studies abroad. He studied at the Louvre in Paris, and travelled extensively across Europe and frequently to Venice. Turner enjoyed a very profitable career, yet he was reluctant to receive such wealth from patrons due to his modest upbringing. As he grew older he became more eccentric and withdrawn. He died of cholera in 1851 and is buried at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.

Throughout his long career, Turner’s style developed dramatically. In his early years he painted very detailed, accurate landscape scenes but as his career progressed, he began to pay less attention to details of objects and more attention to the effects of colour and light, a style for which he is best known for today. As an artist, Turner focused on the atmosphere of his works, and was driven by emotion, personal experience and imagination. He was also relatively modern in his subject choice for the time, focusing on scenes from everyday life and the lives of ordinary people, in locations such as cities, ports and the countryside. In terms of his method, Turner used a wide variety of techniques to achieve his signature style, which was characterised by energetic brushwork and his use of a number of different pigments. He was known for choosing pigments that he knew would not last well, preferring to use those, such as carmine, that looked best when freshly applied. As a result, many of his works are faded and have not stood the test of time.

Turner’s work is held in many major collections across the world, and continues to be the subject of exhibitions at renowned institutions including the Tate Britain gallery in London, which holds an entire wing displaying his work, and at the Indianapolis Museum of Art and the Art Institute of Chicago in the United States. The Turner Contemporary gallery in Margate, United Kingdom was built in 2011 to commemorate Turner’s association with the town as he attended school there.

J. M. W. Turner

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