The Artist J.M.W. Turner

The English painter Joseph Mallord William Turner was born in 1775 in Covent Garden, England. He is associated with the Romantic period and renowned for his landscapes which rivaled historical painting as a popular genre. Nicknamed “the painter of light,” Turner was revered for his oil paintings as well as his watercolor works. His paintings helped give rise to the Impressionist movement later in the nineteenth century.

Turner was born in Maiden Lane, Covent Garden. His father, William Turner, was a wig maker and barber. His mother was Mary Marshall who died in 1804, a few years after being committed to Bethlem Royal Hospital, also known as Bedlam, a mental asylum. Family believed that her mental decline was owing to the death of her daughter in 1786. Turner began to live with his mother’s brother in Brentford as early as 1785. A small town on the River Thames, Brentford witnessed Turner’s early interest in art.

In 1789 Turner entered the Royal Academy of art though he was only fourteen. Turner began to exhibit at the Royal Academy in 1796 with his painting Fishermen at Sea and would exhibit there nearly each year until the end of his life. Turner began to travel to the continent in 1802 with notable stays in Switzerland, France, and later Venice. Turner became close with his father who would exhibit the artist’s earliest drawings in his shop. He lived with Turner until the end of his life even working as his son’s studio assistant. Turner never married but he had two daughters. He was also famous for his reclusive behavior devoting himself to his art and refusing to be observed by anyone while he painted.

Turner became renowned for his ability to capture the moods of nature. He was particularly skilled at seascapes depicting shipwrecks and storms. His work has been linked to the Old Masters, but is particularly noted for its visionary elements; his paintings profoundly affected the course of art in the nineteenth century. Turner was successful throughout his entire career. His paintings often depicted scenes from history, mythology, and even literature. His use of watercolor inspired many later artists. Some of the artist’s most famous works include Wreckers Coast of Northumberland (c.1836), Ovid Banished from Rome (1838), The Battle of Trafalgar, as Seen from the Mizzen Starboard Shrouds of the Victory (1806), The Grand Canal, Venice (1835), Slave Ship (1840), and The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons (1835). The Tate Britain owns the world’s most substantial collection of Turner’s works today.