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Joseph Mallord William Turner
Biography



Joseph Mallord William Turner was precocious, brilliant, and successful. By the age of thirty he had become a member of the Royal Academy. Despite his success, he was a recluse - secretive, short (in both stature and speech), and uninterested in society. Rumpled in dress, Turner was also irascible and mean with money. He never married, though he had a lifelong mistress and a passionate nature. The erotic imagery Turner produced was burned after his death by his admirer, the eminent critic John Ruskin.

Turner's life was devoted to painting, as evidenced by a vast body of work, consisting of over twenty thousand paintings, drawings, and watercolours. Subjects that lent themselves to dramatic effect particularly fascinated Turner. Like Caspar David Friedrich, he loved Gothic cathedrals, and he painted numerous watercolours of them early in his career. Travelling through mountains, he recorded the chasms and waterfalls that were both beautiful and dangerous. He had a lifelong passion for the sea and for rivers. It is not surprising that his favourite foreign city was Venice, the ultimate fusion of water and civilisation, where he made countless sketches and watercolours on his visits in 1819 and again in 1828. During the 1830s and 1840s Turner developed his mature vision, in which the forces of nature and history were given grandiose expression.

His handling of paint by 1844 had become purely personal and intuitive. Scraped, brushed, and smeared, its purpose was to create sweeping movements and general atmospheres; to imply, rather than describe, both setting and details. Specific forms occasionally loom out of the organic, pulsing stretches of paint, giving context and reference points to the overall blots of colour. As he matured, Turner's approach to painting became increasingly idiosyncratic. Though John Ruskin, the great English theorist, championed him, Turner's late works were often ridiculed. To modern eyes, however, looking back over the last hundred years, when painters removed all subject except the paint, Turner's work is not only great but also prescient.

Turner infused landscape with passion, energy, power, interpreting his subject on its most epic and elemental levels. Turner's work, with its strident emotionalism, has been called the culmination of the Romantic landscape.

contributed by Gifford, Katya

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