Home > Categories > Art and Entertainment > Artists > J.M.W. Turner's Biography

J.M.W. Turner's Biography

Browse biogs A-Z

Who was J.M.W. Turner?

Joseph Mallord William Turner was born in Covent Garden, London in 1775, the son of William Turner, a barber and wig maker.

J.M.W. Turner's first job was as an assistant to an architect, but at fourteen he decided to become an artist, and began to study at the Royal Academy in 1789.

His early work consisted of drawings and watercolours on paper. In the mid 1790s he teamed up with Thomas Girtin.

Girtin would often draw the outlines and Turner would provide the colour.

J.M.W. Turner exhibited watercolours at the Royal Academy from 1790, and took up oils from 1796, as the influence of the Italianate landscapes of Claude and Wilson increased.

In 1796, J.M.W. Turner exhibited his first oil painting at the Royal Academy, Fishermen at Sea.

In 1799, J.M.W. Turner was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy. He was elected a full member in 1802; the year he made his first tour to France and studied paintings in the Louvre.

Inspired by what he saw there including works by Titian and Poussin, Turner experimented with light and colour, and his work extended beyond traditional landscape painting. He became known as 'the painter of light'.

Turner was made Professor of Perspective at the Royal Academy. His visits to Italy in 1819 and 1827 inspired many of his later works.

In 1840 he met the critic John Ruskin, who became the great champion of his work.

Although he never married, J.M.W. Turner had two illegitimate daughters. In 1846, Turner began to live with Mrs Booth in Chelsea under the assumed name of 'Admiral Booth'.

When J.M.W. Turner died on 19 December 1851. He left a collection of 350 oil paintings and 20,000 watercolours and drawings to the nation.

In September 2005, BBC Radio 4's Today and the National Gallery announced that The Fighting Temeraire by Turner has beaten works by Van Gogh, Hogarth and David Hockney to be named the greatest painting in Britain in a public vote.

There was more posthumous kudos for J.M.W. Turner in April 2006 when his view of Venice, called Giudecca, La Donna della Salute and San Giorgio, smashed the previous record for the sale price of a work by a British artist.

The painting sold for $35.8m (£20.5m)whereas the previous top price was $21.2m (£12.1m) in 1990 for John Constable's The Lock. At the time the world record price was Pablo Picasso's Garcon a la Pipe, which sold $104m in May 2004.

Back to Top

Latest User CommentsAdd your comment
Add your comment
To ensure you are a real person and not a computer please enter the following characters shown below: