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  Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), self-portrait, c.1798 Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), self-portrait, c.1798
Turner, Joseph Mallord William (1775–1851), landscape and history painter, was born in 1775 (according to his own reminiscence on 23 April), the son of William Turner (1745–1829), barber and wig-maker, of 21 Maiden Lane, in the parish of St Paul's, Covent Garden, London, and his wife, Mary Marshall (1739–1804), whom he had married at St Paul's on 29 August 1773. The baby was baptized at St Paul's on 14 May (in the register Mallord was spelt Mallad). William Turner was of a Devonshire family, and was born in South Molton, where his father was a saddler, on 29 June 1745. Mary Marshall was six years older than her husband and came from a family of artisans and tradesmen living in the outskirts of London. She named her son after one of her brothers, Joseph Mallord William Marshall, who was a butcher in Brentford, Middlesex, and with whom Turner was sent to stay in 1785. Turner was known in his early years as William Turner. An elder sister married a curate at Islington, Henry Harpur, whose grandson, another Henry, was one of Turner's executors. Another Marshall relative, perhaps also a brother, was a fishmonger at Margate, Kent, with whom Turner was sent to stay in 1786. These absences from home were probably because of the ill health and instability of his mother, who became insane at the end of her life and died in an asylum on 15 April 1804. Turner's only surviving sibling, Mary Ann, was baptized at St Paul's, Covent Garden, on 6 September 1778, and was buried there on 8 August 1783.

Education and training

There is little firm information about Turner's education and training. When staying at Brentford in 1785 he attended John White's school, and while in Margate in the following year he was at the school of Thomas Coleman, an active Methodist preacher. At Brentford the ten- or eleven-year-old Turner is said to have coloured some of the engravings in a copy of Henry Boswell's Antiquities of England and Wales for John Lees, foreman of a distillery, who paid him 2d. for each plate. Turner's earliest surviving watercolour drawings are of subjects in and near Margate (W 1–4, all priv. coll.) and were probably made during the 1786 visit. The earliest drawings in the Turner Bequest in Tate Britain are copies from engravings dated 1787 (W 5–6). Tradition has it that Turner's father encouraged his son's artistic talents, and displayed some of his drawings for sale in his shop window and doorway—the family had by now moved to 26 Maiden Lane—at prices ranging from 1 to 3s. Another long-standing tradition is that he was employed to hand-colour prints by the leading mezzotint engraver John Raphael Smith, one of the many printmakers working in the Covent Garden area.

There are also claims that the young Turner was apprenticed to or employed as a draughtsman by a number of architects, among them Thomas Hardwick, William Porden, and Joseph Bonomi; the strongest evidence for such employment is with Thomas Hardwick, who was from 1787 to 1790 in charge of rebuilding the church of St Mary in Wanstead, Essex, of which there is a drawing by Turner in the Turner Bequest (TB IV A). In the summer of 1789 the young artist stayed at Sunningwell, near Oxford, with his maternal uncle Joseph Marshall, and he filled a sketchbook (TB II) with pencil drawings of buildings and views in and around Oxford, from some of which he completed finished watercolours. By the end of 1789 Turner was definitely working with the architectural draughtsman Thomas Malton the younger, and on 11 December he was admitted as a student at the Royal Academy Schools, which he attended for several years. In the Turner Bequest there is a group of drawings from the antique (TB V), most of which were probably the result of his early studies in the plaster academy at the Royal Academy Schools. He began to work in the life academy in June 1792, and last signed its register in November 1799.

However, landscape and topographical drawing and painting were not taught at the Royal Academy, and in this vital area Turner was in many ways his own teacher, except for the encouragement and help provided by Dr Thomas Monro and his so-called academy. Monro, a physician who specialized in mental disorders, was a collector and amateur artist who from about 1794 assembled young artists at his house in the Adelphi to copy from drawings in his collection, many of them by J. R. Cozens, who spent the last years of his life in the doctor's care. Turner's close contemporary and friend Thomas Girtin was among his fellow students at the Adelphi, and it is often difficult to be certain which of them was responsible for specific ‘Monro school’ drawings. Our most detailed information about the Monro academy comes from the diary of Joseph Farington, who first mentioned it in December 1794 and then recorded on 12 November 1798 that:
Turner & Girtin told us that they had been employed by Dr. Monro 3 years to draw at his house in the evenings. They went at 6 and staid till Ten. Girtin drew in outlines and Turner washed in the effects. Turner afterwards told me that Dr. Munro had been a material friend to him, as well as to Girtin. (Farington, Diary, 3.1090)

First tours and exhibits, 1790–1798

Turner's first exhibit at a Royal Academy summer exhibition was no. 644 in 1790, a watercolour of the archbishop's palace, Lambeth (W 10; Indianapolis Museum of Art), an exercise in perspective drawing in which the influences of Malton and of Paul Sandby can be seen. The drawing was not sold, and after the exhibition Turner gave it to his father's friend John Narraway of Bristol, with whose family he stayed for several weeks in 1791 during his second sketching tour, which resulted in the ‘Bristol and Malmesbury sketchbook’ (TB VI), which contains several drawings of the Avon Gorge and of Malmesbury Abbey, some of which he again developed into exhibition and other finished watercolours. These annual sketching tours, during which he gathered material for his finished work, became a regular feature of Turner's working life, as they were for most British topographical artists of this period. Turner can rarely have been without a sketchbook and pencil to hand, and must have been drawing continuously during his travels, as the close on 300 sketchbooks in the Turner Bequest reveal. These sketchbooks, which he himself labelled carefully, became the artist's reference library, the contents of which were regularly used as the basis of finished drawings, including those for engraving, and paintings. As well as providing evidence of Turner's progress and development as an artist, the sketchbooks also contain much precious information to boost the scant biographical material otherwise available.

Turner exhibited two watercolours at the Royal Academy in 1791 and another two in 1792. Of these, The Pantheon, the morning after the fire (TB IXA, W 27) was one of several depictions of the disaster on 14 January 1792 when the theatre in which Turner was currently employed by William Hodges as an assistant scene painter was gutted. A second visit to the Narraways at Bristol in the summer of 1792, on his way to his first sketching tour in Wales, resulted in two River Avon subjects among the three drawings shown in 1793, while in 1794 his five exhibited watercolours included two Welsh scenes. Another, St Anselm's Chapel, Canterbury Cathedral (W 55; Whitworth Art Gallery, University of Manchester), was bought by Dr Monro, and in 1794 Turner's exhibits were noticed for the first time in the press—briefly but favourably. That year also saw the publication of the first two of a series of small topographical engravings after drawings by Turner, in the Copper-Plate Magazine (R 1–15) which continued to 1798, while a similar series was published in 1795–6 in the Pocket Magazine (R 16–31). The artist collected material for these prints on tours in the midlands and Wales in 1794, and in the north, including the Lake District, Yorkshire, and the Northumberland coast, in 1797.

The 1794 tour also provided material for the eight watercolours that Turner showed at the Royal Academy in 1795, which again did much to enhance the young artist's reputation, and attracted patronage from some of the leading collectors of the day, among them Sir Richard Colt Hoare, of Stourhead, Wiltshire, where Turner was probably a visitor that year. Sir Richard commissioned a series of drawings of the cathedral and other buildings in Salisbury, hoping to use them to illustrate a history of Wiltshire which was never completed, as well as two of Hampton Court in Herefordshire, the seat of Viscount Malden, later fifth earl of Essex, who also ordered views of his house. These and other commissions, including one from the engraver John Landseer, were listed by Turner in the ‘South Wales’ sketchbook used in 1795 (TB XXVI). Turner was kept busy by all this work as well as by his preparations for the 1796 summer exhibition, at which he showed ten watercolours and his first oil painting, Fishermen at Sea (BJ 1; Tate collection), a competent atmospheric moonlit scene off the Isle of Wight, which Turner had visited the previous summer. In the tradition of Joseph Vernet, Joseph Wright of Derby, and others, the painting received favourable notices, while Farington described the drawings as ‘very ingenious, but it is a manner'd harmony which He obtains’ (Farington, Diary, 2.518, 2 April 1796). Two of the watercolours are impressive interior views in Westminster Abbey and Ely Cathedral, in which Turner's mastery of architectural detail and of the depiction of space, light, and shade is breathtaking. The Westminster Abbey drawing, of Bishop Islip's chapel, was the first work by Turner bought by Edward Lascelles the younger, friend of Viscount Malden and son and heir of the first earl of Harewood, who died before his father. Between 1796 and 1808 Lascelles was a major collector of contemporary British artists, Girtin and Turner foremost among them, and in 1797 Turner visited Harewood to gather material for a series of views of the great Yorkshire house and its park, some of which remain at Harewood today.

In 1797 Turner's contribution to the Royal Academy was two oil paintings and four watercolours, including two of Salisbury Cathedral, and in the following year there were four paintings and four watercolours, all but one of them of Lake District, Yorkshire, and Northumberland subjects. The 1797 oils were another, but quite small, moonlit scene and the very well-received but now lost ‘Mildmay Sea-piece’, Fishermen coming ashore at Sun Set, previous to a Gale (BJ 3), Turner's first seascape in the Dutch tradition. In November 1798 Turner, supported by Joseph Farington, who recorded full details of the election, stood as one of twenty-four candidates for two vacancies for associate membership of the Royal Academy, and came third. Soon after the election, on 28 November, Turner told Farington, ‘He was determined not to give any more lessons in drawing. He has had only five Shillings a lesson’ (Farington, Diary, 3.1098). The 23-year-old Turner was himself still learning by emulating the work of his predecessors, and at this time he was working on Aeneas and the Sibyl, Lake Avernus (BJ 34; Tate collection), his first effort in the classical tradition of historical landscape, painted for Colt Hoare in the manner of Richard Wilson.

From ARA to RA, 1799–1802

1799 was an auspicious year for Turner, who was able to report to Farington on 6 July that ‘He had 60 drawings now bespoke by different persons’ (Farington, Diary, 4.1249). Earlier that day the diarist had told Turner that ‘He might be assured of being elected [to the Royal Academy], to remove his anxiety’ (ibid.). Among his new patrons were the earl of Yarborough, who commissioned drawings (destroyed by fire) of the mausoleum built on his Lincolnshire estate by James Wyatt, and William Beckford, who ordered watercolours of his great Gothic abbey at Fonthill in Wiltshire, also designed by James Wyatt (W 335–42, various locations), for which he was to receive 35 guineas each. It is not surprising that in April of this year Turner, who had been recommended by Benjamin West, did not reach an agreement with Lord Elgin to accompany him as draughtsman on his projected expedition to Athens; it seems that Turner demanded the very high salary of £400 per annum, while the earl expected to keep all the artist's work. However, later in the year Turner did accept the low fee of 10 guineas per drawing from the Oxford University Press for the prestigious commission to provide ten watercolours for engraving as the headpieces of the annual Oxford Almanack, which were published between 1799 and 1811 (W 295–304; Ashmolean Museum, Oxford; engravings R 38–47).

At the summer exhibition of 1799 Turner was represented by four oil paintings (BJ 8–11) and seven watercolours, and in both media the artist amply demonstrated the strengths and variety of his work at this crucial time. One of the watercolours, a glowing sunset view, reminiscent of a Claude harbour scene, of Caernarfon Castle (W 254; priv. coll.), was purchased by the great collector John Julius Angerstein, who paid 40 guineas for it, a price, as reported by Farington, fixed by the purchaser and ‘much greater than Turner wd. have asked’ (Farington, Diary, 4.1229, 27 May 1799). Turner's mastery of watercolour was now widely admired, though in technique and style the impressive compositions of his exhibition pieces remained varied and unpredictable. On 21 July 1799 Farington recorded that Turner told him, ‘He has no systematic process for making Drawings—He avoids any particular mode that He may not fall into manner’ (ibid., 4.1255), and later in the year (17 November) the diarist reported, ‘Turner has no settled process but drives the colours abt. till He has expressed the idea in his mind’ (ibid., 4.1303). Earlier that month Turner, who had only that year reached the lower age limit of twenty-four, had easily come top of the ballot for the election of two associate members of the Royal Academy. Soon after his election the artist left home and took rooms at 64 Harley Street, installing his mistress, Sarah Danby, not far away.

In the months between the two diary entries Turner had made two important visits. In August–September he stayed for three weeks with William Beckford at Fonthill Abbey, which was still in the hands of the builders, making many drawings in two large sketchbooks (TB XLVII and XLVIII) in preparation for the finished drawings of the abbey, seen only in the distance, and its surrounding landscape (W 335–9). From Fonthill Turner travelled north via London for an extended tour in Lancashire, Yorkshire, and north Wales. This tour centred round the commission, initiated by the great collector of antique sculpture Charles Townley, to make drawings to illustrate Dr Whitaker's antiquarian History of the Parish of Whalley, published with ten very old-fashioned engravings after Turner in 1801 (R 52–61). During this tour the artist met several future patrons, Walter Fawkes of Farnley Hall among them.

At the 1800 Royal Academy exhibition Turner showed two oil paintings and six watercolours, five of which were his finished Fonthill drawings. One of the oils, The Fifth Plague of Egypt (BJ 13; Indianapolis Museum of Art), which in fact represents the seventh plague, was Turner's first historical picture and displays the strong influence of Poussin. It was purchased for 150 guineas by William Beckford, and was very warmly received by the critics. That summer Turner was again at Fonthill, but did little other travelling. He had been commissioned by the third duke of Bridgewater to paint, for 250 guineas, a pendant to his large Van de Velde seascape, A Rising Gale. ‘The Bridgewater Seapiece’, as it is generally known (Dutch Boats in a Gale, BJ 14; priv. coll.), was Turner's major Royal Academy exhibit in 1801, with one other oil and four watercolours, and it became the picture of the year. Much admired by Benjamin West and other fellow artists, it was also attacked by some critics for its ‘lack of finish’. In the summer Turner, helped with his itinerary by Joseph Farington, made his first Scottish tour, visiting Edinburgh, travelling extensively in the highlands, where the mountains made a strong impact on him, and returning via the Lake District. A few months later, on 12 February 1802 Turner was elected a Royal Academician. The cockney barber's son had reached the summit of his ambitions at the age of twenty-six, and was entitled to the coveted and then meaningful title of ‘esquire’; though now a ‘gentleman’ he apparently never lost his cockney accent.

Some two months later the summer exhibition included eight works by Turner. There were three powerful watercolours of Scottish subjects, two imposing canvases of marine subjects, one of them, the so-called ‘Egremont Seapiece’ (BJ 18), the first Turner bought by the third earl of Egremont and still at Petworth, and two historical subjects, which were not sold in Turner's lifetime. The reception of this varied group was mixed, but on the whole favourable.

First foreign tour, 1802

A treaty signed on 25 March 1802 established the peace of Amiens and began a fourteen-month breathing-space in the war between Britain and France. For the first time in some nine years ordinary travellers were again able to cross the channel, and Turner was among the many British artists who flocked to Paris and beyond. He was on the continent from 15 July to mid-October, travelling in some style, accompanied by a Durham country gentleman and amateur artist, Newbey Lowson, through France and Switzerland, but not quite reaching Italy. On the return journey he spent some three weeks in Paris, during which he filled the small ‘Studies in the Louvre’ sketchbook (TB LXXII) with numerous heavily annotated copies after Titian, Poussin, Rubens, and others. On this journey he used eleven sketchbooks in all, some of them quite large, with a total of over 400 drawings. Not long after his return to London Turner attended Thomas Girtin's funeral at St Paul's, Covent Garden; he had lost a friend and a potential rival, as Turner himself was the first to recognize.

The Royal Academy exhibition of 1803, for which Turner was on the hanging committee for the first time, presented the new academician at full strength with five oil paintings and two watercolours, all derived from the experiences of his 1802 tour. Four of the paintings reflected the powerful impact of his study of Poussin, Claude, and Titian in the Louvre; the fifth—Calais Pier, with French Poissards preparing for Sea: an English Packet arriving (BJ 48; National Gallery, London)—is a vivid record of his stormy crossing of the channel that July. Like the two imposing watercolours of Swiss scenes, this dramatic composition was very much in Turner's ‘own manner’, an early example of his ability to create a type of ‘history painting’ from an ordinary everyday event. That May Farington recorded many varied comments among fellow artists about Turner and his work; on 13 May he himself summed up Turner as ‘confident, presumptuous,—with talent’ (Farington, Diary, 6.2030).

Wealth and fame, 1803–1811

Turner undertook no tours in 1803, which was a turbulent year for members of the Royal Academy as several controversies and numerous meetings took up much of their time. Turner was a member of the academy council that year, and he was also busy in building a large gallery of his own—70 feet long and 20 wide—attached to his house in Harley Street, in which the first exhibition, of which no details are known, opened in April 1804, shortly before the Royal Academy exhibition at which Turner showed only two paintings and one watercolour. At the end of the year or early in 1805 Turner became the tenant of Sion Ferry House, on the Thames at Isleworth, and from late 1806 until 1811 he rented a house at Upper Mall, Hammersmith. It is probable that he had a boat on the river, and in the years around 1806–7 he painted a series of large (BJ 160–76) and small (BJ 177–94) Thames sketches which are all in the Turner Bequest. The latter are painted on mahogany panels and it is likely that many of these rapid and effective studies were painted out of doors, some of them while in the boat. They combine disciplined compositions with the direct and fluent depiction of the river scenery to achieve the most ‘modern’ element in Turner's work so far. In painting these series Turner was, however, not alone, for during this decade a number of fellow artists, outstanding among them John Constable, were likewise working in oils from nature, several of them also in the area of the Thames.

For the first time since 1790 Turner was not represented in the Royal Academy exhibition in 1805. There was an exhibition in his own gallery, to which, according to Farington, Turner invited all his fellow academicians. It included The Shipwreck (BJ 54; Tate collection), which was bought for £315 by Sir John Leicester, and was the subject of the first major individual print after Turner, engraved in mezzotint by Charles Turner, and published on 1 January 1807 (R 751). The success of this large plate was one of several factors that led Turner, encouraged by his great friend William Wells, a minor watercolour artist and a founder of the Society of Painters in Water Colours in 1804, to devise and launch his great series of mezzotint engravings, the Liber Studiorum. Owing much to the example of Claude Lorrain's famous Liber Veritatis, which was a personal record of that artist's works, the Liber Studiorum was at once a work of instruction and a manifestation of Turner's own very varied achievements as a painter so far. The plan was for 100 plates in twenty parts and two volumes, without any text but arranged in didactic groups to demonstrate the various categories of landscape art. Turner himself was the publisher of most of the series, of which the first part appeared in 1807. In the end only seventy-one plates were published, the last ten in 1819. Turner produced the monochrome wash drawings, many of them versions of earlier paintings, and also made the majority of the outline etchings for the mezzotinting, which he himself undertook for ten of the published plates. The Liber Studiorum was central to Turner's career as the most personal and carefully conceived series of prints in his entire œuvre. The mezzotints and etchings were eagerly collected in the second half of the nineteenth and the early years of the twentieth century.

In the meantime Turner continued to exhibit some oil paintings and a few watercolours at the Royal Academy, the newly formed British Institution, and rather more in his own gallery. In 1807 he was elected professor of perspective at the Royal Academy, though he did not deliver his first lectures until 1811. The lectures were beautifully illustrated with specially made large-scale diagrams and drawings, but were difficult to hear and understand. The notes survive, but are also difficult to decipher; what has been published so far indicates that these lectures provide considerable insight into Turner's deep knowledge of the history of landscape painting and of his own theories on the subject. Our first detailed information about one of the exhibitions in Turner's own gallery is for that in 1808, and comes from the long review by the engraver John Landseer in the second issue of his own short-lived journal, the Review of Publications of Art. This discusses eleven paintings (BJ 70–80) of which ‘the greater number … are views on the Thames, whose course Mr. Turner has now studiously followed, with the eye and hand at once of a painter and a poet’ (Turner Studies, 7/1, 1987, 28). In his text and in a footnote Landseer referred to Turner's Liber Studiorum ‘classification of the various styles of landscape’, and a large group of the Liber sepia drawings was shown in the exhibition. Catalogues have survived for the 1809 and 1810 Turner's gallery exhibitions, listing sixteen oil paintings and two watercolours in 1809 and seventeen exhibits in 1810, several of which had already been shown before. Turner's gallery was closed in 1811, pending alterations, and that summer he again showed more work at the Royal Academy. Turner had been irregular in his attendance of Royal Academy meetings in the last few years, but he was elected to the council for 1811, and he attended regularly during that year and also in 1812.

During this busy period Turner undertook no specific sketching tours, but most summers he stayed with one or other of his patrons, including in 1808 his first stay at Farnley Hall, the Yorkshire seat of Walter Fawkes, and in 1809 what was probably his first visit to Lord Egremont at Petworth, to make views of the great Sussex house and other Egremont property. Fawkes was to become a close friend and an important patron, as was Lord Egremont, though the friendship between the eccentric peer and the eccentric artist only really blossomed after the death of Walter Fawkes in 1824. However in the summer of 1811 Turner did undertake another lengthy sketching tour, in Dorset, Devon, and Cornwall, in order to begin work on an important commission from the engraver brothers George and William Bernard Cooke to provide the drawings for a major topographical publication, Picturesque Views on the Southern Coast of England (R 88–127) of which the first plates appeared in 1814. This ambitious series was never completed, and only thirty-nine of the projected forty-eight plates were published, the last four in 1826. The project was marred and delayed by squabbles between Turner and the Cookes, and between the engravers and the publisher, John Murray. On the other hand Turner provided some of the best watercolours he had yet made, and also took immense pains in supervising the work of the engravers. This series produced the first of the high-quality copper-engravings after Turner, and was a watershed in the standard of the prints based on his work, and of such prints in Britain as a whole.

In 1810 Turner had shown three oils at the Royal Academy, all views of two of his patrons' great houses—one of Petworth (BJ 113) and two of Lowther Castle, the Westmorland seat of the earl of Lonsdale (BJ 111–12). One of the four paintings shown in 1811, when he also exhibited five watercolours, was the lovely Somer-Hill Near Tunbridge, the seat of W.F. Woodgate, Esq. (BJ 116), now in the National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh. These and other paintings of country houses certainly brought Turner considerable sums, and his growing number of drawings for engraving must also have been profitable. In 1812 Turner felt able to begin building his own country house, or rather Thamesside villa, for which he had bought the plot at Twickenham for £400 late in 1807.

Consolidation, 1812–1819

There are nearly fifty drawings connected with the design of Sandycombe Lodge (initially named Solus Lodge) in various sketchbooks used by Turner between 1807 and 1812, and it is certain that Turner himself designed the essentially modest house, which still survives today. The plan is symmetrical, the rooms are small and the ornamentation is restrained, showing the influence of Turner's architect friend and fellow academician John Soane. Turner started paying rates in 1813, but little is known about his actual use of the house, though he did entertain there and the garden provided happy occupation for the artist's father, who lived with his son. One reason given for the sale of the house in 1826 is that William Turner senior, now in his eighties, was no longer able to enjoy working in the garden.

Turner's supervision of the building of Sandycombe Lodge ruled out travel in 1812, but his altered gallery, now approached from Queen Anne Street West, reopened in May with an exhibition that included several paintings of west country scenes. At the Royal Academy he exhibited four paintings, including the two views of Oxford (BJ 102 and 125) commissioned by the Oxford picture dealer and framemaker James Wyatt to be engraved. Turner was ill at the end of the year, and postponed his third series of perspective lectures, due early in 1813. For the next few years Turner did give his lectures fairly regularly, for the last time in 1828, though he did not resign the chair until 1837.

Turner's lectures were, on the whole, coolly received, and though there was generally praise for his paintings during these years there was also some strong criticism. Much of this came from Sir George Beaumont, great collector, patron, amateur landscape artist, and leader of taste, and from some of his associates. Turner was certainly upset by this, and it was perhaps in an attempt to show his displeasure that he made a late and inappropriate submission in February 1814 for one of the annual premiums, designed for young and unestablished artists, offered by the British Institution, of which Sir George was one of the most active directors. The prize was for a landscape which in previous years had been expected to be in the classical tradition, and Turner submitted Apullia in Search of Appulus vide Ovid (BJ 128; Tate collection), a large canvas closely modelled on Lord Egremont's great Claude Landscape with Jacob and Laban. The premium was awarded to T. C. Hofland, who was actually only two years younger than Turner and until winning this prize was best-known as a copyist. Turner's only work at the Royal Academy that summer was another vast historical landscape, Dido and Aeneas (BJ 129; Tate collection), which, like much of his work at this time, remained unsold. There is no information about that year's exhibition in his own gallery, which was announced as ‘the last Season but two’, an indication of plans for yet another enlargement, which was finally begun in 1819.

1815 was a difficult year for Turner, as his Royal Academy exhibits that summer brought to a head the severe and hurtful criticism of Sir George Beaumont and his circle. Turner's four paintings and four watercolours (all very large and powerful Swiss scenes, three of which had been painted for Walter Fawkes some ten years earlier) were a very mixed group, of which the two great Claudian compositions, Crossing the Brook (BJ 130; Tate collection) and Dido building Carthage (BJ 131; National Gallery, London), were much praised by fellow artists and several critics, and have become two of Turner's best-known earlier works. However, these were also the two paintings which most annoyed Beaumont, who is reported by Farington to have commented that Crossing the Brook ‘appeared to Him weak and like the work of an Old man … it was all of peagreen insipidity’, while the Dido was ‘painted in a false taste, not true to nature; the colouring discordant, out of harmony’ (Farington, Diary, 13.4638, 5 June 1815). Beaumont's opinions were widely known, and he was one of the principal targets in an anonymous pamphlet entitled A Catalogue Raisonné of the Pictures now Exhibiting at the British Institution, which was a forceful attack on the directors of the institution, ostensibly for staging their loan exhibitions of old master paintings, which were unpopular with living artists, but it also defended Turner against the abusive criticism of his work.

During August Turner escaped from all the controversy and went to Farnley Hall, where he was now a frequent summer visitor treated almost as a member of the Fawkes family. He arrived in time for the grouse shooting, and also found relaxation in making some of his series of watercolour drawings to record Walter Fawkes's collection of ‘Fairfaxiana’ and some of the twenty beautiful studies of birds for the family's ornithological collection. He was at Farnley again the following summer, which was very wet. After a short tour with Fawkes and his family, he continued on his own, touring Yorkshire and Lancashire in pursuit of material for Dr Whitaker's proposed History of Yorkshire. The antiquarian had commissioned Turner to make 120 drawings for this ambitious project, of which, however, only the History of Richmondshire was completed, published between 1818 and 1822 with twenty plates after some of Turner's most attractive watercolours (R 169–88; W 559–81).

Before this Yorkshire visit Turner had again opened an exhibition in his gallery and sent a pair of very large and imposing classical scenes to the Royal Academy exhibition (BJ 133 and 134). Both featured the temple of ‘Jupiter Panellenius’ on the island of Aegina, and presented an audacious and carefully orchestrated challenge, indicating his sympathy with the cause of Greek liberation and his knowledge of current archaeological activities in Greece, to the critics of his two Claudian compositions the year before. Turner continued his campaign in 1817, when his only Royal Academy exhibit was the even larger Decline of the Carthaginian Empire (BJ 135; Tate collection), a companion to the 1815 Dido building Carthage, and again highly praised by most of the critics. This pair has been interpreted as Turner's telling commentary on the rise and fall of the Napoleonic empire. Visits to the continent were again a possibility, but Turner's own second crossing of the channel was delayed until the summer of 1817. He sailed from Margate to Ostend on 10 August, and after visiting the battlefield of Waterloo travelled up the Rhine from Cologne to Mainz, returning in mid-September via Belgium and the Netherlands. Soon after his return to England Turner visited Raby Castle, seat of the earl of Darlington, to collect material for his fine painting of the house in its landscape (BJ 136; Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore). After more sketching in co. Durham, Turner ended his tour at Farnley, where he spent about three weeks.

It was during this visit that Walter Fawkes purchased the famous series of fifty watercolour views of the Rhine based on drawings in the sketchbooks used during the Rhine tour (W 636–86). These represent a new development in Turner's work in watercolours and gouache, for they were clearly quite rapidly and spontaneously executed, using a limited range of colours, though appearing ‘finished’, and were long considered to have been painted on the spot. When they were completed is not known, and it is probable that Turner was working on the series during the evenings in Germany and then while at Raby. He was back in London in December, and must have begun working on his three large and important canvases for the next Royal Academy exhibition.

As well as the Raby Castle these were the luminous Dort, or Dordrecht (BJ 137; Yale U. CBA), Turner's most important homage to Albrecht Cuyp, who was born in Dordrecht, and the dramatic and Rembrandtesque Field of Waterloo (BJ 138; Tate collection), both resulting from the scenery as well as the paintings he had seen on his 1817 continental tour. Turner's fourth Royal Academy exhibit that year was a large watercolour of an Italian scene, Composition of Tivoli (W 495; priv. coll.). He had yet to visit Italy, but at this time he was working on the commission from the architect James Hakewill, who had toured and sketched in Italy in 1816 and 1817, to make twenty watercolours after his own drawings, of which eighteen were engraved for Hakewill's Picturesque Tour in Italy and published by John Murray between 1818 and 1820 (R 144–61). Many years later Ruskin thought that Turner's Hakewill drawings were done after the artist's first Italian tour, which took place in 1819. Turner did travel again in the autumn of 1818, to Scotland to collect material for Walter Scott's Provincial Antiquities and Picturesque Scenery of Scotland to be published as a speculative venture in Edinburgh. The distinguished author had insisted that Turner should be one of the illustrators of this work, believing that his inclusion would ensure the success of the publication. Ten plates and two vignettes after his drawings were engraved for the two volumes between 1819 and 1826 (R 189–200), but the venture was a commercial failure.

In the remarkably varied small group of 1818 exhibits Turner had proved yet again his versatile mastery of several styles and traditions, as he was also continuing to do in the last four parts of the Liber Studiorum, published in 1816 and 1819. At the 1819 summer exhibition Turner showed two contrasting canvases, the Entrance of the Meuse in the Dutch marine tradition, and the very large England: Richmond Hill, on the Prince Regent's Birthday (BJ 139 and 140; both Tate collection), a Claudian composition of one of the most painted distant views of the Thames. Neither of these ambitious works sold, but two other exhibitions in London that season demonstrated Turner's successes with major patrons. In March Sir John Leicester opened his collection of modern British pictures, including eight paintings by Turner, to the public in the recently completed gallery at his house in Hill Street, Mayfair. A month later Walter Fawkes showed his great collection of watercolours, which included some seventy works by Turner, at his London residence, 45 Grosvenor Place. These two exhibitions were well attended and did much to confirm Turner's place as the leading landscape artist of the day. On 2 July Thomas Lawrence, who was in Rome, wrote to Joseph Farington, ‘Turner should come to Rome. His Genius would here be supplied with new materials, and entirely congenial with it’ (Lawrence MSS, RA, LAW/3/52).

First visit to Italy, 1819–1820

Turner, well provided with detailed advice from Hakewill and with guidebooks, set off for Rome on 31 July 1819, crossing the channel from Dover to Calais, and travelling rapidly through France for some two to three weeks before crossing the Mont Cenis pass to Turin and Milan. He then explored some of the Italian lakes, before reaching Venice, where he spent only a few days. He finally arrived in Rome early in October, and stayed there for about two months, during which he visited Tivoli and also undertook a journey south, to Naples, Pompeii, and Paestum. During his travels and in Rome itself he was continuously drawing, and filled over twenty, mostly small, sketchbooks, with quick pencil drawings which became noticeably less detailed as his journey proceeded. Turner also completed some fifty watercolour studies, many of them drawn on the spot, which reveal his excited reaction to the clear Italian light. He left Rome, where he had mixed with some of the many artists and British visitors then in the city, and was elected an honorary member of the Academy of St Luke, in time to spend Christmas in Florence, before crossing the Alps in severe winter weather to arrive back in London on 1 February 1820.

During his relatively rapid journey Turner managed to see and record most of what the much more leisurely grand tourist usually saw, and he also absorbed the atmosphere and aura of ancient and modern Italy, so that the whole classical tradition centred on Italy, which had long been a vital second-hand element of his art, became an even more integral part of his creative and imaginative genius. It took Turner several years to assimilate all this, and his attempt to encapsulate it all immediately in a great public statement was over-ambitious. On his return he set to work on the huge canvas which was his only exhibit at the 1820 Royal Academy exhibition, entitled Rome from the Vatican: Rafaelle accompanied by La Fornarina, preparing his Pictures for the Decoration of the Loggia (BJ 228; Tate collection). At once topographical, historical, and imaginary, this brightly coloured and theatrical composition, with its puzzling perspective, made full use of a considerable number of the sketchbook drawings.

Having not exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1821 (for the first time since 1805) and having exhibited only one small and uncharacteristic canvas, What You Will! (BJ 229; priv. coll.) in 1822, Turner again exhibited a single Italian work in 1823. The Bay of Baiae, with Apollo and the Sibyl (BJ 230; Tate collection) is somewhat smaller and even more colourful than Rome from the Vatican, and is a poetical and fluent Claudian composition based on drawings done during Turner's visit to Baiae from Naples in 1819. Rome again provided the subject matter for the third of Turner's large-scale Italian subjects shown at the Royal Academy. This was the Forum Romanum, for Soane's Museum exhibited in 1826 (BJ 233; Tate collection), which Turner painted for Soane but which ‘did not suit the place or the place the picture’ in the museum that the architect was creating in Lincoln's Inn Fields (MS note attached to letter from Turner dated 8 July 1826; Gage, Collected Correspondence, 101). In these three imposing Italian canvases Turner had depicted ancient, Roman, and Renaissance Italy; all these three aspects, as well as on one or two occasions modern Italy, continued to be an essential feature of Turner's inspiration, which was to be reinforced by his second visit to Italy in 1828.

Travels at home and abroad and topographical work, 1820–1830

Soon after his return to London Turner's life was disrupted by major rebuilding work in his house and gallery, which was probably the reason for his not exhibiting at the Royal Academy in 1821. However, he did complete a small series of quite large finished watercolours of Italian scenes, which was acquired by Walter Fawkes (W 718–24). In September Turner was able to get away for a brief journey in France, visiting Paris and exploring the River Seine, perhaps already with a series of engravings in mind. On the whole the first four or five years of the 1820s were a period of relative lull for Turner, who was then in his later forties. There were few exhibits at the Royal Academy, but in April 1822 Turner opened his new gallery in Queen Anne Street showing unsold earlier work, and that spring a notable group of his watercolours was included in the Cooke brothers' exhibition ‘Drawings by English Artists’. It seems that at this time Turner, having stopped publication of the Liber Studiorum in 1819, was eager to initiate new schemes for engravings after his work. His proposal that summer to Messrs Hurst and Robinson to produce four paintings of subjects of classical mythology for engraving as single plates came to nothing. In early August Turner sailed to Edinburgh to be present at George IV's ceremonial visit, the first to Scotland of a Hanoverian king. Material in the sketchbooks which he used suggests that he had in mind a series of commemorative canvases or, more probably, a set of engravings of the occasion, but neither scheme was carried out, though there are four unfinished oil studies on panel (BJ 247, 248, 277, and 278) in the Turner Bequest as further evidence of his plans.

Two new projects for engravings were, however, initiated at this time; first was the Cookes' The Rivers of England, a series of thirty-six mezzotints to be engraved on the recently introduced steel plates. The uncompleted series included sixteen plates after Turner (R 752–67), published between 1823 and 1827 and based on some of the most attractive watercolours he had yet produced. One of the engravers for the Rivers was Thomas Lupton who launched a similar scheme, The Ports of England, in 1826, but this again was not completed, though republished as The Harbours of England in 1856 (R 778–90). During his work on these two series Turner was involved in disagreements with both W. B. Cooke and Thomas Lupton, and there is ample evidence that the artist was not an easy man to deal with. However, this did not stop the print publisher and engraver Charles Heath from launching the most ambitious project for the publication of engravings after Turner, the Picturesque Views in England and Wales, a series of 120 copper-engravings all after drawings by Turner, of which, in the end, only ninety-six plates in twenty-four parts were published between 1827 and 1838 (R 209–304). Though a commercial failure, the England and Wales was a triumph from the artistic point of view, including some of the finest British topographical engravings of the nineteenth century based on some of Turner's most memorable watercolours. The artist was closely involved in supervising the engraving of these drawings and this publication marks a high point in the development of what has come to be known as the Turner school of engravers.

In 1825 Turner showed only one watercolour and one oil at the Royal Academy, but the latter was the magnificent Harbour of Dieppe (BJ 231; Frick Collection, New York), which initiated a more fluent and colourful sequence of topographical compositions. The next, Cologne, the Arrival of a Packet Boat (BJ 232), is also in the Frick Collection and was one of four oil paintings shown at the Royal Academy in 1826. This was partially based on drawings made during Turner's tour of the Low Countries in the summer of 1825. He had not been abroad since 1821, though he had made several sketching tours in England to collect material for the various topographical series. In the winter of 1824 he paid what was to be his last visit to Farnley, for Walter Fawkes died in October 1825. Within a year or two Farnley was replaced as Turner's country retreat by Petworth, where he was a regular and welcome guest of his longtime patron Lord Egremont until the eccentric earl's death in 1837. Turner clearly felt very much at home at Petworth, as he had done at Farnley. During his visits of earlier years he had drawn considerable inspiration from the great collection of old master paintings in the house; now the house itself, with its magnificent interiors and surrounding parkland, inspired Turner to produce the series of over one hundred rapid gouache drawings on blue paper, probably all dating from his visit in the late summer of 1827. Between 1828 and 1837 Turner also executed some fifteen oil paintings depicting the landscape and interior of Petworth, of which the landscapes were commissioned by the earl. None of these drawings or paintings was engraved or exhibited during the artist's lifetime, indicating that for Turner his visits to the great aristocratic house were a personal and private experience.

After his 1827 stay at Petworth, Turner was the guest of the architect John Nash at East Cowes Castle on the Isle of Wight at the time of Cowes regatta of which he painted two pictures for his host, which were among the four paintings shown at the 1828 summer exhibition (BJ 242 and 243; Indianapolis Museum of Art and V&A). They were based on a group of nine small oil sketches of the regatta, painted on two rolls of canvas (BJ 260–68; all Tate collection). Some of these may have been painted when aboard a man-of-war. Turner also made numerous drawings of the castle and its surroundings, some of them on blue paper.

Turner's work on his Petworth landscapes was interrupted by the artist's second visit to Italy, which he may have been encouraged to undertake at this time by his recent work on the twenty-five watercolour vignettes (W 1152–76) engraved on steel for the 1830 illustrated edition of Samuel Rogers's poem Italy (R 348–72). He set out in early August 1828, reaching Rome in early October, and stayed there for three months. On this visit Turner was determined to complete some finished paintings, especially one, Palestrina (BJ 295; Tate collection), as a companion for Lord Egremont's great Claude. His studio was at 12 piazza Mignanelli, the house in which his fellow artist Charles Lock Eastlake, who had recently been elected an associate of the Royal Academy, was living. In the second half of December Turner showed three completed canvases, framed in yellow-painted rope, in the rooms to which he had moved near the Quattro Fontane. These were Regulus, View of Orvieto, and Vision of Medea (BJ 294, 292, and 293; all Tate collection), of which the last two were shown again at the Royal Academy in 1830 and 1831 respectively, and the first in 1837. The Rome exhibition was seen by more than a thousand visitors and caused considerable controversy and adverse criticism. The Palestrina was not shown in Rome but was at the 1830 academy; it was not bought by Lord Egremont. Turner left Rome in January and was back in London in time for the academy meeting on 10 February 1829, at which Constable was at last elected a Royal Academician.

Much to Turner's dismay his completed Rome paintings had not reached London in time for the academy exhibition of 1829, though some of the oil sketches made in Rome must have travelled with him, for he used two of them in composing Ulysses deriding Polyphemus—Homer's Odyssey (BJ 330; National Gallery, London), which he painted in London in time for the exhibition. This ‘central picture in Turner's career’, to quote John Ruskin, heralded Turner's mature manner as the painter of colour and light—a manner which had already been seen on occasions in earlier work, such as the Petworth landscapes, but which from now on was to be the norm (E. T. Cook and A. Wedderburn, eds., The Works of John Ruskin, 13, 1904, 136).

Turner had planned to return to Rome in the summer of 1829, but his father's poor health prevented this. He did visit Paris in August, and toured down the Seine and along the Normandy coast, returning early in September. William Turner senior died on 21 September, and this blow was followed in January by the death of Sir Thomas Lawrence, whose funeral at St Paul's Cathedral Turner recorded in a large watercolour exhibited at the academy at its next exhibition.

Exhibits in the 1830s

At the 1830 summer exhibition Turner showed six oil paintings, including two of those painted in Rome. Two of the others—Jessica and Pilate washing his Hands (BJ 332–3; Tate collection and Petworth House, Sussex)—both displayed the influence of Rembrandt and received virulent criticism. On the other hand the eloquent Calais Sands (BJ 334; Bury Art Gallery and Museum), a luminous composition reminiscent of the coast scenes of the recently deceased young landscape artist R. P. Bonington and probably conceived as an act of homage to him, was generally well received.

There were seven exhibits in 1831, all of them oils and including another of the paintings shown in Rome in 1828, the Vision of Medea (BJ 293; Tate collection), which was given a mixed, but generally critical, reception. There was, however, praise for the two coast scenes, Life-Boat and Manby Apparatus (BJ 336; V&A) and Fort Vimieux (BJ 341; priv. coll., England), in both of which Turner achieved wonderful effects of light and weather, in contrast to the calm classical atmosphere of the Claudian Caligula's Palace and Bridge (BJ 337; Tate collection). The single marine, Admiral Van Tromp's Barge at the Entrance of the Texel, 1645 (BJ 339; Sir John Soane's Museum, London), was also reminiscent of Turner's earlier ‘old master’ work, while the remaining two paintings—Lord Percy under Attainder and Watteau Study by Fresnoy's Rules (BJ 338 and 340; both Tate collection)—both small and on panel, introduced a new type of subject picture based on Turner's close study of the interior of Petworth House and demonstrating in a didactic way his theories on the painting of light and colour. The variety and challenge of these seven 1831 exhibits set the pattern for Turner's public work in the last two decades of his career. Up to 1841, when all six exhibited works were sold, the majority of these exhibited paintings found buyers, and on the whole the critics admired, or at least tolerated, nearly all of them.

The six paintings shown at the Royal Academy in 1832 again included a very large classical composition, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage—Italy (BJ 342; Tate collection), which was exhibited with seven lines from canto 4 of Lord Byron's epic poem. There were three historical ‘Dutch’ marines, one another Van Tromp subject, the second illustrating William III's stormy landing at Torbay in 1688, and the third a calm scene of shipping off the Dutch coast. Turner's fourth 1832 marine is very different and features a steam boat. The dramatic Staffa, Fingal's Cave (BJ 347; Yale U. CBA) records the artist's own turbulent experiences in August 1831 when visiting Staffa and Iona; it was the first painting by Turner to reach America when purchased in 1845 by Colonel James Lenox of New York. The final 1832 exhibit was the most controversial and is a confusing but colourful biblical scene, Shadrach, Meshech and Abednego in the Burning Fiery Furnace (BJ 346; Tate collection), painted in light-hearted competition with his friend and fellow academician George Jones.

The pattern of a varied selection of six exhibits continued for another year, and in 1833 it included Turner's first two exhibited Venetian subjects, one now lost and the other Bridge of Sighs, Ducal Palace and Custom-House, Venice: Canaletti Painting (BJ 349; Tate collection). This small but powerful composition, which was bought by the major collector of contemporary British painting Robert Vernon, is said to have been very largely painted when already hanging at the academy on the varnishing days, a feat that Turner repeated on numerous later occasions, perhaps, it has been suggested, to give his fellow artists some idea of his revolutionary working methods. The Venetian compositions must have been based on Turner's 1819 drawings, for his second visit to the city did not take place until the autumn of 1833. The other four 1833 paintings were all seascapes, three of them quite conventional but atmospheric ‘Dutch’ marines, and the fourth the dramatic Mouth of the Seine, Quille-Boeuf (BJ 353; Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon). This is based on the composition of one of Turner's Seine subjects, of which the engraving was published in his Rivers of France series in the following year, and it was probably exhibited to draw attention to that publication.

None of the five 1834 Royal Academy exhibits forms part of the Turner Bequest as all were sold or commissioned. Venice (BJ 356), now in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, was painted for Henry McConnell, while Robert Vernon purchased The Golden Bough (BJ 355; Tate collection) before the exhibition. This was certainly conceived as a pair to the equally Claudian The Fountain of Indolence (BJ 354; Beaverbrook Foundation). Perhaps also commissioned, this time by Vernon's rival collector John Sheepshanks, was the small St. Michael's Mount, Cornwall (BJ 361; V&A), a relatively calm scene when compared to the larger Wreckers—Coast of Northumberland (BJ 357; Yale U. CBA), with its wild waves in the foreground.

On 16 October 1834 Turner was an onlooker as fire destroyed a large part of the houses of parliament in London. He recorded the scene in a series of nine very rapid on-the-spot watercolour studies, and in 1835 he exhibited two spectacular oil paintings of the subject, both of which he sold (BJ 359 and 364; Philadelphia Museum of Art and Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio). The first was shown at the British Institution, where Turner had not exhibited since 1816, and was painted almost entirely on the walls of the gallery during varnishing days, as famously recounted some years later by the Norfolk artist E. V. Rippingille. The second, almost identical in size but a distant view and totally different in composition, was one of Turner's five Royal Academy exhibits that summer. Also in America today, in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, is the sombre Keelmen heaving Coals by Night (BJ 360), a scene on the River Tyne painted for Henry McConnell as a companion for his 1834 Venice. The only Venetian exhibit this year, Venice, from the Porch of Madonna della Salute (BJ 362; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), was bought by H. A. J. Munro of Novar, while The Bright Stone of Honour (Ehrenbreitstein) (BJ 361; priv. coll., London) was painted for the engraver John Pye, whose engraving of it was published ten years later. The fifth painting, Line-Fishing, off Hastings (BJ 363; V&A), was also sold, to John Sheepshanks.

The three paintings at the Royal Academy in 1836 were also all sold, two of them, both Italian subjects, from the exhibition to Munro of Novar, who accompanied Turner on his continental tour later that year. These were the spectacular Juliet and her Nurse (BJ 365; priv. coll., Argentina) and Rome from Mount Aventine (BJ 366; priv. coll.). Juliet was the particular target of the Revd John Eagles in a scathing review in Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, as was Mercury and Argus (BJ 367; National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa), a loosely painted classical composition, purchased by Joseph Gillott, another of Turner's major patrons at this time. It was the Blackwood's review that moved the young John Ruskin to write a powerful letter in support of Turner, and though this was not published it sowed the seed that led to Ruskin's famous defence of Turner in his Modern Painters, of which the first volume was published anonymously in 1843. In 1837 the Royal Academy held its first exhibition in its new premises in Trafalgar Square, and Turner was on the hanging committee. He himself showed four paintings, which were again attacked by Eagles, who described them as ‘a bold attempt to insult the public taste’ (Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, 42, July–Dec 1837, 335). Only two were sold, The Grand Canal, Venice (BJ 368; Henry E. Huntington Art Gallery, San Marino, California), with its reference to Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice, and the sensational mountain scene Snow-storm, Avalanche and Inundation—a Scene in the Upper Part of Val d'Aouste (BJ 371; Art Institute of Chicago), both bought by Gillott. The two great classical compositions, the Claudian Story of Apollo and Daphne and the powerful Poussinesque The Parting of Hero and Leander (BJ 369 and 370), both remained in Turner's studio to form part of the bequest.

In 1838 Turner again exhibited an earlier work, retouched on varnishing day, Fishing Boats with Hucksters bargaining for Fish (BJ 372; Art Institute of Chicago), at the British Institution, where he had shown his much repainted 1828 Regulus the year before. At the Royal Academy there were three paintings, the unsold Phryne going to the Public Baths as Venus (BJ 373; Tate collection) and the pair Modern Italy—the Pifferari and Ancient Italy—Ovid banished from Rome (BJ 374 and 375; Glasgow Art Gallery and priv. coll.), both bought by Munro of Novar.

What has become Turner's most famous painting was one of the five which he showed at the Royal Academy in 1839. Described by W. M. Thackeray (writing as Michael Angelo Titmarch in Fraser's Magazine, 10, June 1844, 712–13) as ‘as grand a painting as ever figured on the walls of any academy, or came from the easel of any painter’, The Fighting ‘Temeraire’, tugged to her Last Berth to be broken up, 1838 (BJ 377; National Gallery, London) was acclaimed by the critics of the day and has been admired and idolized ever since. This masterpiece overshadowed Turner's other exhibits this year, all of them with classical or Italian subject matter, including another pair featuring ancient and modern Rome (BJ 378 and 379). Munro bought Modern Rome (priv. coll.) and Gillott acquired Cicero at his Villa (BJ 381; priv. coll.). In contrast to his praise for The Fighting ‘Temeraire’ Thackeray condemned Pluto carrying off Proserpine (BJ 380; National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC), which he found incomprehensible. As at the beginning of the decade, Turner's exhibits provided challenging variety at its end, as they were to do also throughout the 1840s.

Watercolours and engravings in the 1830s

Some seventy engravings on copper and over 300 on steel after drawings by Turner were published in the 1830s. Most of his travels in this decade, during which he reached his sixties, were undertaken to collect topographical material for these engravings, and it was largely through them that the artist's fame spread in Europe and America. The sixth and seventh parts of the England and Wales series were published in 1829, and a further seventeen parts with sixty-eight copper-engravings in the 1830s, the twenty-fourth and final part in 1838. In June and July 1829 the publisher Charles Heath held an exhibition including some forty of Turner's England and Wales watercolours in the Egyptian Hall in London, but Turner drew many of the later England and Wales watercolours, some of them based on studies made on recent travels, not long before they were sent to the engravers. Throughout the publication of this ambitious but unprofitable series he maintained close control over the actual engraving, as is shown by the large number of surviving touched proofs.

One of the reasons for the commercial problems of the England and Wales series was that steel, introduced in the mid-1820s, very quickly ousted the traditional copper as the prime material from which engravers' plates were made. Turner rapidly acclimatized himself to the new method, which resulted in more precise images which could be printed in much larger numbers, and produced some thirty drawings for a number of the popular annuals from 1826 onwards. His first outstanding success with steel were the twenty-five small vignettes (R 348–72) commissioned by the banker–poet Samuel Rogers to illustrate a luxury edition of his poem Italy published in 1830, and still regarded as one of the outstanding examples of the illustrated book in the first half of the nineteenth century. As always Turner carefully guided and supervised the engravers and there are again many touched proofs. In these tiny compositions artist and engraver succeeded in combining a wealth of detail with telling effects of light and atmosphere. The success of Italy persuaded Rogers to undertake a similar costly edition of his Poems which was published in 1834 with thirty-three vignettes after Turner (R 373–405). Turner—himself a writer of poetry and clearly very sympathetic to that of Samuel Rogers—created some of his most telling images for these two beautiful books, which established him as the leading illustrator of the day, and produced numerous demands for illustrative drawings for engraving, for during these years Turner's involvement greatly enhanced the sales of a book.

While in Rogers's Italy and Poems Turner provided illustrations for an existing text, in the famous Rivers of France series, published in three volumes in 1833–5, the text was written, by the popular hack author Leitch Ritchie, to accompany Turner's plates. Published for Charles Heath by Longman's as Turner's Annual Tour, the first volume with a vignette and twenty plates was devoted to the River Loire (R 432–52), and the second and third, each with a vignette and nineteen plates, to the Seine (R 453–92). The beautiful engravings were based on Turner's relatively broad gouache and watercolour drawings on blue paper, which in their turn were based on the artist's numerous drawings and studies in pencil, pen and ink, watercolours, and gouache, executed during several sketching tours along the rivers in 1821, 1826, possibly 1827, 1829, and 1832, when he was travelling for ten weeks. Turner put a great deal of preparatory work into his drawings for these volumes, perhaps realizing that much would be expected of him in an annual series which, almost uniquely, was published under the artist's name. The Rivers of France plates became the best-known prints after Turner, but none the less plans to continue the series as Rivers of Europe were stillborn.

From now on Turner's work for engraving was largely to illustrate existing texts—prose, poetry, and even the Bible. The first major author for whose writings he was commissioned to provide illustrations was Lord Byron, whose poetry had inspired his 1818 painting The Field of Waterloo, and who was to inspire several more in the 1830s and 1840s, especially the fine Childe Harold's Pilgrimage—Italy exhibited in 1832. In 1830 Turner was commissioned by the engraver William Finden to provide drawings for a publication of landscape engravings illustrating Byron's travels and writings. After much complex negotiation between artist, engraver, author, and publisher, one of whom was John Murray, nine subjects after Turner finally appeared in Finden's Landscape Illustrations to Byron published in fourteen monthly parts of five plates from January 1832. Some of the same Turner compositions were used in the much more important and successful edition of The Works of Lord Byron: with his Letters and Journals, and his Life, by Thomas Moore, published by John Murray in 1832–4 in seventeen volumes, with illustrations by a number of artists, including twenty-six landscape vignettes after Turner, most of which appeared at the start of each volume; they also appeared in several further publications and editions (R 406–31). Many of Turner's Byron subjects were of places he had not visited, including, of course, Greece, and were based on the drawings of others. Most of the watercolours are very tight and precise, and these illustrations largely lack the harmony and fellow feeling of his illustrations to Samuel Rogers's work.

There was, however, again much greater affinity with the author in Turner's numerous illustrations to the writings of Sir Walter Scott, the first of which he had provided for the unsuccessful Provincial Antiquities of Scotland between 1818 and the mid-1820s. Though Scott was apparently not impressed by the man, he was an admirer of Turner's art, and after seeing the 1830 edition of Rogers's Italy he agreed that Turner should be invited to provide illustrations for a new edition of his Poetical Works planned by the Edinburgh publisher Robert Cadell. In persuading Scott to accept Turner as the sole illustrator Cadell wrote, ‘with his pencil I shall insure the subscription of 8000—without, not 3000’ (W. Partington, The Private Letter-Books of Sir Walter Scott, 1930, 252, n. 1). On about 20 July 1831 Turner left London by coach on what was his fourth visit to Scotland, which lasted some six weeks. In early August he spent five days as Scott's guest at Abbotsford, on each of which sketching trips were organized, several of them joined by Scott, who was already a sick man and died a year later, and all in the company of Cadell, who then went with Turner to Edinburgh but did not join the rest of the artist's sketching tour of the highlands and the Western Isles. The twelve volumes of Scott's Poetical Works were published in 1834, each with a topographical frontispiece and a vignette after Turner (R 493–516). Many of the vignettes are full of personal detail, reflecting the artist's close contacts with author and publisher, which resulted in designs of the highest quality.

Turner was then also employed by Cadell to provide illustrations for a new edition of Scott's Prose Works, ultimately published in twenty-eight volumes. He completed his designs for forty prints (R 517–56), half of them vignettes, between 1833 and 1835, making another tour to collect material in Scotland in September 1834. Sixteen of these prints illustrated the nine volumes devoted to Scott's Life of Napoleon Buonaparte, and here again Turner's admiration for the subject resulted in some of his most telling compositions, in which the drama of particular events in the emperor's career was brought to life with telling details on the tiny scale of a vignette.

Large groups of Turner's watercolours for the England and Wales series and for several of the illustrated books were exhibited in London in 1832, 1833, and 1834 at the Pall Mall gallery of Moon, Boys, and Graves, who had taken over the England and Wales in 1831 and were Cadell's partners in the publication of the Scott series. However, Cadell's plans to continue Turner's involvement in illustrating the work of Walter Scott in a luxurious new edition of the Waverley novels came to nothing, though the artist did provide a few drawings for two further Scott publications (R 560–68).

Amazingly Turner was able to work for yet more publications in the mid-1830s. He was one of eleven artists employed by the Finden brothers to provide drawings for engraving on steel for a large series, Landscape Illustrations of the Bible, first issued in monthly parts in 1834 and 1835, and then published in two volumes in 1836 (R 572–97). Turner's contribution was twenty-six small watercolours based, as he himself had not visited the Holy Land, on the drawings of a number of other artists, including the young architects Charles Barry and C. R. Cockerell. A second commission for designs based on the work of another artist resulted in seven somewhat mechanical and larger engravings after the author's drawings for Lieutenant G. F. White's Views in India, first published in 1836 (R 606–12).

During the same period Turner drew seven lively and imaginative vignettes for John Macrone's edition of the Poetical Works of John Milton published in seven volumes in 1835 (R 598–604). Intricate and often crowded figure compositions here replace topography, which is again more in evidence in some of Turner's twenty vignette illustrations for Edward Moxon's edition of Thomas Campbell's Poetical Works, published in 1837 (R 613–33), for some of which he made studies during his tour in Germany and Austria in 1835. Most of the Campbell vignettes were engraved by Edward Goodall who had made his first engraving after Turner in 1822, and became one of the most prolific engravers of his work. Goodall was also responsible for engraving the four theatrical compositions drawn by Turner, using his powers of descriptive illustration to the full, to illustrate the vivid prose of Thomas Moore's popular novel The Epicurean, published by John Macrone in 1839 (R 634–7). Except for six fine compositions with striking light effects engraved to illustrate the mysterious private edition of Dr. Broadley's Poems (R 638–43), published in the early 1840s, Turner, who was now well into his sixties, produced no further drawings for publishers.

The modern master in the 1840s

The Turner Bequest includes some 200 late ‘unfinished’ oils, and there are a few more in other collections. Dating from the last twenty years of Turner's career and mostly painted in his studio, they represent his instinctive reactions to land and seascape and the total freedom and painterliness of his ‘private’ art, and were not intended for exhibition. Largely ignored until the 1930s, this considerable body of work has gradually come to be appreciated as a significant element of Turner's œuvre, showing him at his most natural and painterly, and sealing his place as one of the first ‘modern’ masters. This phase of appreciation came to a head with the notable exhibition ‘Turner: Imagination and Reality’ at New York's Museum of Modern Art in 1966, and was revived by another New York exhibition, ‘Exploring Late Turner’ (Salander-O'Reilly Galleries, 1999). These rapid paintings on canvas, panel, or board are different from the usual oil studies or sketches, and are matched by hundreds of equally compelling watercolour ‘colour beginnings’ in the Turner Bequest. Together these formed the basis of much of the artist's late ‘finished’ work in all media, some of which is almost as fluent and fluid as are the ‘beginnings’. Turner frequently submitted some of his canvas oil ‘beginnings’ to the annual summer exhibition at the Royal Academy, and then completed his ‘finished’ picture on the walls of the gallery on the varnishing days. It may well be that in adopting this method of working Turner was looking back to his earliest days, when watercolour drawings were traditionally laid in in monochrome over which the colour was applied.

In 1840 Turner was represented by seven paintings at the Royal Academy, including another of his most famous works, Slavers throwing overboard the Dead and Dying—Typhon coming on (BJ 385; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts), which is better known as ‘The Slave Ship’. This great icon of the anti-slavery campaign was given by his father as a new year gift in 1844 to John Ruskin, who wrote some of his most stirring passages in its praise, before finding it ‘too painful to live with’ and sending it to auction in 1869. The critics were almost unanimous in reviling ‘The Slave Ship’, and most of Turner's other 1840 exhibits, which included two broadly painted Venetian scenes (BJ 383 and 384), one of which was painted for John Sheepshanks. The sparkling Neapolitan Fisher-Girls (BJ 388) was bought by Robert Vernon, though he sold it two years later at Christies, where it fetched only 55 guineas. The powerful Rockets and Blue Lights (BJ 387; Sterling and Francine Clark Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts) was shown again in 1841, at the British Institution, and then remained with Turner's dealer, Thomas Griffith, until sold about 1843, and only two of the remarkable and challenging 1840 group remained unsold and are in the Turner Bequest (BJ 382 and 386).

In the summer of 1840 Turner paid his third and last visit to Venice, staying there for two weeks. He must have spent much of his time drawing and sketching in pencil and watercolours, using larger roll sketchbooks (which could be rolled up and kept in a pocket) for the latter. These marvellously observed and rapidly executed—perhaps often on the spot—Venetian watercolours herald Turner's late work in this favourite medium. From now on there are few ‘finished’ watercolours for engraving or display, and the artist again and again seems to wish the watercolour onto the paper to produce telling visions of light and colour, which are among Turner's most ‘modern’ works, and which strongly influenced some of the impressionists and other later artists. As well as Venetian scenes, his subject matter ranged from individual fish to Swiss mountains, and today the later watercolours which have been sold are among the most prized of Turner's works.

Three of Turner's six 1841 Royal Academy exhibits were of Venetian subjects, one of which, Ducal Palace, Dogano, with part of San Giorgio, Venice (BJ 390; Allen Memorial Museum, Oberlin College, Ohio), was painted for Turner's friend the sculptor Sir Francis Chantrey. The second, Giudecca, la Donna della Salute and San Giorgio (BJ 391; Art Institute of Chicago), was priced by Turner at 250 guineas and was the first of his oils bought by Elhanan Bicknell, one of his major patrons in these late years. The third, the imaginary ‘historical’ scene Depositing of John Bellini's Three Pictures in la Chiesa Redentore (BJ 393; priv. coll.), was priced at 350 guineas and acquired by Charles Birch, another important collector of the late paintings. Though not bought by the royal couple and apparently not even noticed by Queen Victoria, Schloss Rosenau, Seat of H.R.H. Prince Albert of Coburg, Near Coburg, Germany (BJ 392; Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool) was eventually sold, to another leading Turner collector, Joseph Gillott. The two remaining exhibits, the circular The Dawn of Christianity (BJ 394; Ulster Museum, Belfast) and the square Glaucus and Scylla (BJ 395; Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas), were both bought by B. G. Windus, already one of the principal collectors of Turner's watercolours.

In the summer of 1841 Turner undertook the first of four annual visits to Switzerland, during each of which he spent much time at Lucerne. As usual he was constantly drawing, using numerous sketchbooks, including again roll sketchbooks in which he made rapid and fluent on-the-spot watercolour studies, often with spectacular light and weather effects. In these late visits Turner was recording the Swiss landscape, and especially the lakes, at ground level, usually seeing the mountains in the distance rather than close up as in his younger years. When in Lucerne he stayed at the Swan Hotel, overlooking the lake, from which he could observe the spectacular isolated Mount Rigi on its northern shore, at different times of day and in a variety of weathers, achieving a series of outstanding watercolour studies similar to those he had made in Venice. On his return to London, Turner chose fifteen ‘samples’ from his Swiss watercolours and provided four finished specimens for Thomas Griffith to obtain commissions for ten quite large watercolours, including three featuring Rigi, to be sold for 80 guineas each (W 1523–32). In the event the agent achieved only nine orders, five of them from Munro of Novar and two each from Bicknell and Ruskin. In 1843 a similar project had less success, and only six watercolours were completed and sold (W 1534–9). Ruskin again bought two of them, including the spectacular Goldau (W 1537; priv. coll., USA). Another set of ten was made and sold in 1845 (W 1540–49), and a few similar drawings date from the later 1840s. For the young John Ruskin, who was very much involved at the time, some of these Swiss watercolours ranked as Turner's greatest achievements in that medium, and they are still regarded as among the outstanding English watercolours of the nineteenth century.

Despite his work on the Swiss watercolours, Turner showed five oil paintings at the Royal Academy in 1842, of which only the two Venetian scenes were sold, both at the exhibition. Bicknell bought the lovely Campo Santo, Venice (BJ 397; Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo, Ohio) and Robert Vernon The Dogano, San Giorgio, Citella, from the Steps of the Europa (BJ 396; Tate collection). The other three paintings (BJ 398–400; all Tate collection) were more challenging, especially Snow storm—Steam-Boat off a Harbour's Mouth making Signals in Shallow Water, and going by the Lead. The Author was in this Storm on the Night the Ariel left Harwich. Turner's claim that this dramatic seascape was based on an actual experience was probably apocryphal, but there is no doubt that it was his own grief at the loss of his much younger friend that helped Turner to achieve the powerful effect of mourning in Peace—Burial at Sea. This was painted to commemorate the death the previous summer of Sir David Wilkie on his return journey from the Middle East and his burial at sea off Gibraltar. Its pair, War: The Exile and the Rock Limpet, is a poignant reflection on the fate of Turner's hero, Napoleon, whose ashes had recently been brought back from St Helena for a state burial at Les Invalides in Paris.

1843 was another vintage year at the Royal Academy, with three Venetian pictures among Turner's six exhibits. Foremost was the pessimistic Sun of Venice going to Sea (BJ 402; Tate collection), which became one of Ruskin's favourites. The first volume of his Modern Painters, with its renowned and influential defence of the later work of Turner, was published anonymously that May, and the first small edition was quite quickly sold out. The Opening of the Wallhalla (BJ 401; Tate collection) was generally well received by the British press, but not in Germany when exhibited in Munich in 1845. The term ‘daub’ was now being frequently used by critics of Turner's paintings, as in several discussions of the pair of puzzling didactic compositions shown in 1843, Shade and Darkness—the evening of the Deluge and Light and Colour (Goethe's Theory)—the Morning after the Deluge (BJ 404–5; Tate collection).

The seven works he exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1844 included another of Turner's most renowned and influential paintings, Rain, Steam and Speed—the Great Western Railway (BJ 409; National Gallery, London). There were also three vivid marines (BJ 407–8 and 410), of which the first, Ostend (Neue Pinakothek, Munich), was bought by Munro of Novar. The three Venetian scenes were again all very loosely painted, and only one was sold. In 1845, a year in which the seventy-year-old Turner served as acting president of the Royal Academy during the president's illness, and was also on the hanging committee, only one of his six exhibited works found a buyer. This was one of the two paintings entitled Whalers (BJ 414–15), depicting stormy scenes of whale fishing, which may actually have been painted for the whaling entrepreneur Elhanan Bicknell, who found fault with it and very quickly sold it, perhaps to Munro of Novar. There were four Venetian scenes, even more diffuse and gloomy than before. In 1846 Turner again showed a painting at the British Institution, a rare Shakespearian subject, Queen Mab's Cave (BJ 420; Tate collection), which was very thickly painted and which the critic of the Art-Union described as being ‘a daylight dream in all the wantoness of gorgeous, bright, and positive colour, not painted but apparently flung upon the canvas in kaleidoscopic confusion’ (Art-Union, 8, 1846, 76). The six oils at the Royal Academy included two whaling subjects (BJ 423 and 426) and a pair of square canvases with remarkable visionary subjects, Undine giving the Ring to Massaniello and The Angel standing in the Sun (BJ 424–5), all of which were unsold. Surprisingly another pair—exotic Venetian subjects entitled Going to the Ball (San Martino) and Returning from the Ball (St. Martha) (BJ 421–2; priv. coll.)—did find a buyer, and was soon in B. G. Windus's collection.

Turner's failing health is reflected in his Royal Academy exhibits in his final years. In 1847 there was only one work, The Hero of a Hundred Fights (BJ 427; Tate collection), a reworked canvas of about 1800. There was nothing in 1848, and in 1849 he showed two much earlier works, one borrowed from Munro of Novar (BJ 428; Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool). In 1850 Turner exhibited at his beloved academy for the last time, submitting a series of four dark compositions depicting subjects from the Aeneid in a remarkable distillation of his Claudian manner (BJ 429–32; Tate collection). It was recorded by a fellow artist, J. W. Archer, that Turner painted these while in Chelsea, and that ‘they were set in a row and he went from one to the other, first painting upon one, touching on the next, and so on, in rotation’ (‘Reminiscences’, Once a Week, 1 Feb 1862, 162–6). This report lends weight to considering Turner as a ‘modern master’.

Turner's appearance, character, and private life

The facts of Turner's private life and a valid picture of his character are just as enigmatic as much of his late painting. We know from numerous verbal descriptions that he was short and became corpulent, that in later life he dressed badly, and that he usually talked hesitantly and with a strong cockney accent. This image is confirmed by several of the sketches and drawings of him, some of them showing Turner at work. Surprisingly for such an eminent artist there exists no major formal painted portrait or bust of Turner, and the best image we have is his well-known youthful self-portrait of about 1798 (BJ 25; Tate collection).

There are also many accounts of Turner's character and behaviour, some of them contradictory but most of them giving the impression of a difficult and very private person, though not, apparently, when with his closer friends. He could be both gruff and very friendly, miserly and very generous. He is often described as restless, but his chief relaxation was river and lake fishing, and he composed much of his poetry on river banks, where he was also, of course, able to study such vital elements of his art as light, water, sky, landscape, and weather. Turner was a great reader of poetry, and was himself a frequent versifier, as seen in numerous jottings in his sketchbooks, including the so-called ‘Verse Book’ (priv. coll.) used from about 1805 to 1810. The titles of many of his Royal Academy exhibits were accompanied in the catalogues by poetic quotations of his own writing, most of them from 1812 onwards designated as from the manuscript poem ‘The Fallacies of Hope’. The titles of some forty of Turner's paintings have references to music, indicating the artist's lifelong interest in music and opera, and he also maintained his love of the theatre initiated in his early days as a scene painter.

John Constable, in a letter written in 1813 soon after sitting next to Turner at a Royal Academy dinner, summed him up as follows: ‘he is uncouth but has a wonderful range of mind’ (John Constable's Correspondence, 2, 1964, 110). The two never became friends, but Turner had numerous other artist friends most of whom have already been mentioned. Especially to be remembered is W. F. Wells (1762–1836) who was probably his closest friend, and whose daughters, Clara and Emma, were among his favourite younger people. Turner was also very popular with the Fawkes children at Farnley in Yorkshire, the home of a fellow spirit, Walter Fawkes, another of the artist's close friends. On a different level were the artist's friendship with Lord Egremont, and his warm welcome at Petworth. Other long-term friends included two clergymen, H. S. Trimmer, a frequent fishing companion, and E. T. Daniell, who both probably helped the artist to acquire his considerable knowledge of the Bible and of classical languages and literature.

Turner, who never married, was very close to his father, who, until he died in 1829, was his studio assistant and often cook in Queen Anne Street, and also did the gardening at Sandycombe Lodge. Sarah Danby, née Goose, widow of the composer John Danby (1756/7–1798), who was somewhat older than Turner, became his mistress and housekeeper, and was the mother of his two daughters, Evelina, born in 1800/01, and Georgiana, born some ten years later. Sarah's relationship with Turner ended about 1813. Her late husband's niece Hannah had joined the Turner household as a servant in 1809, becoming housekeeper a few years later. It is clear from several sketchbooks and passages of his poetry that Turner was something of a womanizer, but the facts of his liaisons and fatherhood remain uncertain. Later in his life, in the early 1830s, Turner developed a relationship with his Margate landlady, the twice-widowed Sophia Booth, whose first husband, drowned in 1821, was Henry Pound. In 1846 Turner acquired a small house by the Thames in Chelsea—6 Davis Place, Cremorne New Road, an extension of Cheyne Walk. He moved in with Mrs Booth in October, and spent most of his final years there, well looked after by Mrs Booth, trying to remain incognito, and known locally as Admiral Booth.

Turner's legacies

Turner died at 6 Davis Place on 19 December 1851, lay in state in his gallery in Queen Anne Street, and was buried in the crypt of St Paul's Cathedral on 30 December. A statue of Turner by Patrick MacDowell, provided for in the artist's will, was erected in St Paul's in 1862.

Immediately after the funeral the will was read to five of Turner's executors, initiating controversy which lasted many years. His first will was executed on 30 September 1829, leaving various modest legacies and annuities to relatives and members of the Danby family, and a fund for a professorship of landscape painting and a Turner gold medal at the Royal Academy. The residue was to finance a charity for ‘decayed English artists (Landscape painters only) and single men’ to be built on Turner's land at Twickenham and to include a gallery for Turner's paintings. Two paintings—Dido building Carthage (BJ 131) and The Decline of the Carthaginian Empire (BJ 135)—were specifically bequeathed to the recently founded National Gallery to hang with two of the Angerstein Claudes. In June 1831 a more carefully prepared will was drawn up, which replaced the Dido painting with Sun rising through Vapour (BJ 69) and made other changes. Amended by four codicils (1831, 1832, 1848, and 1849) the 1831 will was granted probate on 6 September 1852.

Turner's cousins, who had already unsuccessfully challenged the validity of his will immediately after his death, resumed their litigation after probate, on the grounds that the charity provisions were void because they had not been properly registered in the court of chancery. After three years a compromise was reached by a court decree of 19 March 1856; the charity was abandoned and his relatives were granted much of Turner's considerable property, and all his engraved works. The relatively modest bequest to the Royal Academy was increased to £20,000, and ‘all the Pictures, Drawings and Sketches by the Testator's hands without any distinction of finished or unfinished’ were assigned to the National Gallery, whose trustees took legal possession on 25 September 1856. Consisting of some 300 oil paintings (100 of them designated as ‘finished’) and some 19,000 watercolours and drawings, this great collection, usually known as the Turner Bequest, has had a chequered and often controversial career for over a century. It was not until the opening of the Clore Gallery at the Tate Gallery in 1987 that the bulk of the bequest has been preserved and partially displayed under one roof, fulfilling to a large extent Turner's desire that his work should be seen ‘all together’.

Turner's reputation

Turner was recognized as an artist prodigy and his reputation, especially among his fellow artists, was established rapidly as shown by his very early election to the Royal Academy. He retained and enhanced that reputation throughout his long career, though, as recorded above, there was always a degree of adverse criticism and hostility for the increasingly personal and advanced manner and technique of his work. The eccentricity of his behaviour and appearance meant that Turner was never wholly accepted by society, though he was a valued member of his small circle of friends and colleagues. All this was summed up in one of his obituaries:
Whatever hesitation might have been felt by the mass of those who gazed on the later efforts of his brush in believing that he was entitled to the highest rank in his profession, none of his bretheren seems to have any doubt of his decided excellence, and the best of them all have ever admitted to his superiority in poetry, feeling, fancy and genius. Long ere his death he had the felicity of knowing that his name and his works were regarded with that reverential respect and estimation which is given to other artists by posterity alone. (The Times, 31 Dec 1851)
‘Posterity’ has never lessened its admiration for Turner's work, though from time to time it has changed the areas of his work which are most admired. In the second half of the nineteenth century the writings of John Ruskin and his disciples kept Turner's reputation very much alive, and during this period it was the Liber Studiorum that became especially esteemed by scholars, students, and collectors. The first half of the twentieth century saw a relative lull in Turner's reputation, though there was increased appreciation of his unfinished and ‘impressionistic’ oils in the Turner Bequest. A new period of celebrity and eager collecting was launched by the two great bicentenary exhibitions in London in 1975—a superb overall survey at the Royal Academy and a selection of watercolours and drawings, largely from the Turner Bequest, at the British Museum. 1975 saw the creation of the Turner Society and the start of an extensive series of Turner exhibitions at home and abroad, which has been enhanced by the many scholarly exhibitions held regularly in the Clore Gallery since its opening in 1987. As the last section of this article will show Turner scholarship blossomed during these years with a vast number of books, catalogues, and articles, and a learned journal, Turner Studies, devoted almost exclusively to him, published twice a year from 1981 to 1991. The last decades of the twentieth century also saw huge rises in the value of paintings and drawings by Turner, as shown by the sale in New York in May 1980 of the notorious 1836 Juliet and her Nurse (BJ 365) for $6,400,000, then a record price for any painting sold at auction.

The Turner literature

Turner was not well served by his first biographer, Walter Thornbury, whose Life of J. M. W. Turner, R.A. (1862; 2nd edn, 1877) was often inaccurate and misleading. However, at this period readers were able to consult the brilliant writings on Turner of John Ruskin in Modern Painters (1843–60) and elsewhere, which are still considered to include some of the most perceptive and compelling passages written about the artist. There were other short accounts of Turner in the two decades after his death, and P. G. Hamerton's fuller and sensitive biography was published in 1879. One of the leading later nineteenth-century Turner scholars, W. G. Rawlinson, published his catalogue of the Liber Studiorum in 1878 (2nd edn, 1906), and the two volumes of his invaluable Engraved Work of J. M. W. Turner, R.A. in 1908 and 1913. In 1902 Sir Walter Armstrong's Turner appeared, a massive and luxurious volume ending with two informative lists of paintings and watercolours. A. J. Finberg's major contributions to Turner scholarship began in 1909 with his two-volume Inventory of the Drawings in the Turner Bequest. His updated catalogue and history of the Liber Studiorum was published in 1924, followed in 1939 by The Life of J. M. W. Turner, R.A. (2nd edn, 1961), which remains the most comprehensive and informative biography.

In the 1960s a considerable number of picture books devoted to Turner were produced, as well as Jack Lindsay's Critical Biography (1966) and Graham Reynolds's readable and well-illustrated Turner in 1969. John Gage's Colour in Turner: Poetry and Truth, a pioneering and challenging analysis of the artist, was also published in 1969. The first catalogue raisonné of the Turners in a public collection was Luke Herrmann's Ruskin and Turner, giving full details of the collection of watercolours and drawings in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Other catalogues of Turner's works in British public collections are: Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge (1975), City Art Gallery, Manchester (1982), Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester (1984), National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin (1988), Merseyside Collections (1990), and National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh (1993).

The number of books, exhibition catalogues, and articles devoted to Turner in the last quarter of the twentieth century is enormous. Outstanding among them are The Paintings of J. M. W. Turner by Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll (1977; revised edn, 1984) and Andrew Wilton's The Life and Work of J. M. W. Turner (1979) which includes a catalogue of the finished watercolours. Wilton's Turner in his Time (1979) and Gage's J. M. W. Turner: ‘A Wonderful Range of Mind’ (1987) both provide stimulating surveys, while Cecilia Powell's Turner in the South (1987) gives the fullest information about Turner's travels in Italy. Another valuable contribution from John Gage is the skilfully edited Collected Correspondence of J. M. W. Turner (1980). Eric Shanes, editor of the journal Turner Studies, published his useful and well-illustrated Turner's Picturesque Views in England and Wales in 1979, followed by the similar Turner's Rivers, Harbours and Coasts in 1981. In both these Shanes examined the symbolism and political meaning of Turner's compositions, and he enlarged on these themes in his Turner's Human Landscape (1990). Similarly didactic is Kathleen Nicholson's Turner's Classical Landscapes: Myth and Meaning, also published in 1990. A revival of interest in Turner's work for engraving was marked by Luke Herrmann's Turner Prints, another publication of 1990.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s the results of much of the research devoted to Turner appeared in exhibition catalogues and in articles in Turner Studies and other journals in Britain and America. Regional exhibitions, such as Andrew Wilton's Turner in Wales (1984), were followed by David Hill's books devoted to Turner's travels and work in specific areas, such as In Turner's Footsteps (1984) which follows him in northern England. Lindsay Stainton's Turner's Venice (1985) provides, with beautiful illustrations, full guidance on that fascinating theme, as the multi-author volume Turner at Petworth, published by the Tate Gallery in 1989, does for Petworth. Two new biographies of Turner, by Anthony Bailey and James Hamilton, both published in 1997, reflect the enormous quantity of new material available but still fall short of being convincing portraits of the elusive artist, whose life and work will continue to exercise scholars and students. A pioneering reference book, The Oxford Companion to J. M. W. Turner (2001), edited by Evelyn Joll, Martin Butlin, and Luke Herrmann, provides a compendium of the artist's life, work, and environment.

Luke Herrmann


Farington, Diary · J. Ruskin, Modern painters, 5 vols. (1843–60) · A. A. Watts, ‘Biographical sketch of J. M. W. Turner’, in L. Ritchie, Liber fluviorum, or, River scenery of France (1853), vii–xlviii · W. Thornbury, The life of J. M. W. Turner, 2 vols. (1862); new edn (1877) · P. G. Hamerton, The life of J. M. W. Turner (1879) · W. G. Rawlinson, The engraved work of J. M. W. Turner, 2 vols. (1908–13) [cited as R] · A. J. Finberg, A complete inventory of the drawings in the Turner Bequest, 2 vols. (1909) [cited as TB] · A. J. Finberg, The history of Turner's Liber Studiorum, with a new catalogue raisonné (1924) · A. J. Finberg, The life of J. M. W. Turner (1939); 2nd edn (1961) · L. Gowing, Turner: imagination and reality (1966) [exhibition catalogue, Museum of Modern Art, New York] · The sunset ship: the poems of J. M. W. Turner, ed. J. Lindsay (1966) · J. Gage, Colour in Turner: poetry and truth (1969) · J. Russell and A. Wilton, Turner in Switzerland, ed. W. Amstutz (1976) · M. Butlin and E. Joll, The paintings of J. M. W. Turner, 2 vols. (1977); rev. edn (1984) [catalogue of all oil paintings; cited as BJ] · A. Wilton, The life and work of J. M. W. Turner (1979) [incl. catalogue of finished watercolours; cited as W] · E. Shanes, Turner's Picturesque views in England and Wales (1979) · G. Finley, Landscapes of memory: Turner as illustrator to Scott (1980) · Collected correspondence of J. M. W. Turner, ed. J. Gage (1980) · D. Hill, In Turner's footsteps: through the hills and dales of northern England (1984) · L. Stainton, Turner's Venice (1985) · J. Gage, J. M. W. Turner: ‘a wonderful range of mind’ (1987) · C. Powell, Turner in the south: Rome, Naples, Florence (1987) · A. Wilton, Turner in his time (1987) · M. Butlin, M. Luther, and I. Warrell, Turner at Petworth: painter and patron (1989) · L. Herrmann, Turner prints: the engraved work of J. M. W. Turner (1990) · A. Bailey, Standing in the sun: a life of J. M. W. Turner (1997) · J. Hamilton, Turner: a life (1997) · E. Joll, M. Butlin, and L. Herrmann, eds., The Oxford companion to J. M. W. Turner (2001) · Turner, 1775–1851 (1974) [exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery and RA, 16 Nov 1974 – 2 Mar 1975] · A. Wilton, Turner in the British Museum: drawings and watercolours (1975) [exhibition catalogue, British Museum, London] · [F. Baumann and K. Seltmann], eds., Turner und die Schweiz (Zürich, 1976) [exhibition catalogue, Kunsthaus, Zürich, 7 Oct 1976 – 2 Jan 1977] · M. Omer, Turner and the Bible (1979) [exhibition catalogue, Israel Museum, Jerusalem, 1979; AM Oxf., Jan–March 1981] · A. Wilton, Turner and the sublime (1980) [exhibition catalogue, Toronto, New Haven, and London, 1 Nov 1980 – 20 Sept 1981] · J. Guillaud and M. Guillaud, Turner en France (Paris, 1981) [exhibition catalogue, Centre Culturel du Marais, Paris, 7 Oct 1981 – 10 Jan 1982] · C. Powell, Turner's rivers of Europe: the Rhine, Meuse, and Mosel (1991) [exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, 11 Sept 1991 – 26 Jan 1992; Musée d'Ixelles, Brussels, Feb–April, 1992] · D. B. Brown, Turner and Byron (1992) [exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London, 3 June – 20 Sept, 1992] · J. Piggott, Turner's vignettes (1993) [exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, 29 Sept 1993 – 13 Feb 1994] · C. Powell, Turner in Germany (1995) [exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, 23 May – 10 Sept 1995] · G. Forrester, Turner's ‘drawing book’: the Liber Studiorum (1996) [exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, 20 Feb – 2 June, 1996] · I. Warrell, Turner on the Loire (1997) [exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, 30 Sept 1997 – 15 Feb 1998] · I. Warrell, Turner on the Seine (1999) [exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, 29 June – 3 Oct 1999] · L. Parris, ed., Exploring late Turner (1999) [exhibition catalogue, Salander-O'Reilly Galleries, New York, 1 April – 5 June 1999] · R. J. B. Walker, ‘The portraits of J. M. W. Turner: a checklist’, Turner Studies, 3/1 (1983) · E. Shanes, ed., Turner Studies, 11 vols. (1981–93) · d. cert.


BL, lecture notes, Add. MS 46151 · FM Cam., letters · Tate collection, album of engravings, corresp., and press cuttings |  Bodl. Oxf., corresp. and papers relating to Turner Bequest · Ches. & Chester ALSS, letters to Sir John Leicester and related papers · RA, corresp. with Thomas Lawrence · University of Lancaster, Ruskin Library


J. M. W. Turner, self-portrait, watercolour drawing, 1792, NPG · J. M. W. Turner, self-portrait, oils, c.1793, Indianapolis Museum of Art · J. M. W. Turner, self-portrait, oils, c.1798, Tate collection [see illus.] · G. Dance, pencil and chalk drawing, 1800, RA · E. Bird, pencil drawing, 1815, BM · C. R. Leslie, pencil drawing, 1816, NPG · E. Bell, sketch, 1828, BM · J. T. Smith, watercolour drawing, 1830–32, BM · pencil, c.1837 (after J. Gilbert), NPG · J. Linnell, oils, 1838, NPG · C. Turner, chalk and watercolour drawing, 1841, BM · C. Turner, chalk drawing, 1842 (after his earlier work), NPG · C. Martin, pencil drawing, 1844, NPG · watercolour with bodycolour over pencil, 1844 (after C. Martin), NPG · R. Doyle, woodcut, 1846, NPG · J. Gilbert, drawing, 1846, Courtauld Inst. · W. Parrott, oils, c.1846, U. Reading · attrib. T. Woolner, plaster cast of death mask, 1851, NPG · C. Turner, stipple, pubd 1852 (after Count D'Orsay), BM, NPG · J. B. Hunt, stipple, pubd 1857 (after unknown artist), BM, NPG · L. C. Wyon, medal, 1876, NPG · S. Haydon, drypoint etching (after D. Maclise), NPG · P. McDowell, statue, St Paul's Cathedral, London · W. B. Richmond, pencil drawing, NPG · attrib. J. T. Smith, oils, Tate collection

Wealth at death  

approx. £140,000 estate