Joseph Mallord William Turner (often shortened to J.M.W. Turner) is a British landscape artist known as the “Painter of Light”. With a broad range of techniques, he developed a signature luminous and atmospheric style that gave his works a fluid and poetic quality. He famously used these to depict mother nature in his historical and landscape subjects, imbuing them with drama and power. To know more about this master painter, here are the following facts:
1. He was the son of a barber and wig maker.
- The younger Turner had a natural gift for drawing and his father sold his works to customers for a few shillings each. Joseph sold his first painting at age thirteen.
- In Turner’s later years, after his mother was institutionalized for mental illness, his father lived with him, and served as his cook, gardener and studio assistant.
2. He officially began his career at the Royal Academy of Arts.
- Turner studied at the prestigious school and was elected as an associate at the youngest eligible age of 24. He gave private lessons and became professor of perspective.
- The academy hosted his first exhibition and continued to display his submissions up to the end of his lifetime.
3. Turner easily mastered every landscape style he liked.
- His early style was very traditional and imitated his predecessors. He was hired to replicate or embellish unfinished sketches by John Robert Cozens, a landscapist who had recently passed away.
- Turner seemed to have felt competition between himself and the painters he drew inspiration from. He wished for two of his paintings to be displayed alongside his two favorite pieces by Claude Lorrain.
4. His bequest included numerous drawings from his travels.
- Turner went to Italy, France, Switzerland, Germany, Denmark and Czechoslovakia, creating around 19,000 sketches of sceneries throughout his journeys.
- Despite being well-traveled and among elitist peers, he never lost his Cockney accent and remained a true Londoner at heart.
5. Turner appeared to have a preference for widows.
- He had two daughters from a ten-year affair with widow Sarah Danby. Some evidence suggests the children were actually from Hannah, Turner’s housekeeper and Sarah’s niece.
- In his later life, Turner shared his home with widow Sophia Caroline Booth and called himself “Mr. Booth”.
6. His last will promoted art and his legacy.
- Turner wished to use his wealth to support “decayed artists”, but most of the £140,000 fortune was given to his distant relatives due to a prolonged lawsuit.
- He bequeathed his paintings to the National Gallery, provided that they be exhibited in a separate gallery. 57 years after his death, many of his oil paintings were finally transferred to the Tate Gallery.
Evolving from his extensive observation of the world and study of the Old Masters, Joseph Mallord William Turner created peerless masterpieces that still resonate with contemporary artists. The breadth of his skills and the innovative spirit of his style make him perhaps the greatest landscapist of the 19th century.