oseph Mallord William Turner RA (23 April 1775 – 19 December 1851) was an English Romantic landscape painter, watercolourist and printmaker. Turner was considered a controversial figure in his day, but is now regarded as the artist who elevated landscape painting to an eminence rivaling history painting.
From darkness to light: perhaps no painter in the history of western art evolved over a greater visual span than Turner. If we compare one of his earliest exhibited masterworks, such as the fairly low-key St Anselm's Chapel, with part of Thomas-a-Becket's crown, Canterbury Cathedral of 1794, with a vividly bright picture dating from the 1840s, such as The Falls of the Clyde, it seems hard to credit that the two images stemmed from the same hand, so vastly do they differ in appearance. Yet this apparent disjunction can easily obscure the profound continuity that underpins Turner's art
Yet it is this power to change our vision that renders Turner's painting a puzzle even today. This applies not only to the dating of his works - which is especially difficult in a number of cases - or to the efforts of art historians to place his pictures' motifs within the context of the artistic development of the first half of the 19th century. "I did no paint it to be understood," Turner objected, following scathing criticism of one of his later, significant pictures. "but I wished to show what such a scene was like".
[Turner's] pursuit of artistic experience was so extreme that he once insisted on being tied to the mast of a ship during a storm before painting the tempestuous 'Snowstorm steam-boat off a harbour mouth."
Although renowned for his oils, Turner is also one of the greatest masters of British watercolour landscape painting. He is commonly known as "the painter of light". One of his most famous oil paintings is The fighting Temeraire tugged to her last berth to be broken up, painted in 1838, which hangs in the National Gallery, London.
Modern art is commonly associated with the 20th century. Yet, Joseph Mallord William Turner’s (1775-1851) work has characteristics that could be considered modern. Parts of many of Turner’s paintings, such as the two here [Shade and Darkness - The Evening Before the Deluge and Light and Color (Goethe’s theory) — The Morning after the Deluge — Moses Writing the Book of Genesis] , show non-representational forms that depart from the dominant traditions of representation. Instead of trying to mimic the naturalistic appearance of the scene, some areas of the paintings appear almost abstract
Turner was less concerned with painting specific places than with the dramatic possibilities of sea and air, and with the motion of the elements. Light was his theme as seenbelow in two of his so-called 'colour-beginnings', 'Study of Sunlight' and 'Study of Sea: Stormy Sky' - studies of colour and light. The diarist Joseph Farington noted that 'Turner has no settled process but drives the colours about'. In fact unlike such watercolour studies, his finished watercolours are quite detailed, the impression of breadth and atmosphere carefully created. John Constable initially disliked Turner's work but later called his paintings 'golden visions, glorious and beautiful; they are only visions but still they are art, and one could live or die with such paintings'.
Through a much longer career, Turner sought to confirm the status of landscape as a serious art form, striking comparisons with old master paintings, and favouring themes with historical subjects or literary associations. His sources ranged from Ovid and the Bible to authors such as Milton, Sir Walter Scott and Lord Byron. Moving beyond the Picturesque repertory and Sublime subject-matter, which were well-established by the early 19th century, Turner explored the psychological, emotional and symbolic range of the landscape genre.
One of Turner's unique qualities is that he did not attempt to reproduce what he saw, but rather he tried to paint what he felt about a scene. In this he can be considered an early "Impressionist" painter. His best works exhibit a glorious, hazy wash of light, with shapes merely suggested through the light.
Turner was one of the most versatile, successful and innovative artists of his day. In our day, he’s primarily remembered as a painter. His colorful oils and watercolors crackle with raw energy. Turner captured the atmospheric qualities of storms and fires and the gnarled, muscular structure of the earth. His memorable landscapes didn’t look like other people’s landscapes. A fire in Parliament … a haze over London Bridge. These color-saturated images tend to burn themselves on your retina. The artist was called the ancestor of Impressionism with good reason.
One of Britain's most celebrated artists, Turner showed exceptional artistic talent from an early age and entered the Royal Academy aged fourteen. His English landscapes made his name but there was a darker side to his paintings that was difficult for the critics to swallow, both in the increasingly informal use of paint and the subject matter that was critical of the romanticised vision of Britain in the late nineteenth century. Turner bequeathed 300 of his paintings and 20,000 watercolours and drawings to the nation.