J. M. W. Turner

The above portrait of Turner by George Dance, c. 1800

Special thanks to the Microsoft Corporation for permission to use following biographical information from Microsoft® Encarta '97:

Joseph Mallord William Turner was an English landscape painter who is renowned especially for his dynamic treatment of natural light effects in land and marine subjects. His work is of direct importance in the development of impressionism.

Turner was born in London on April 23, 1775, and educated at the Royal Academy of Arts. At the age of 15 he exhibited his paintings at the academy and continued to show his work there until 1850. He was elected an associate of the academy in 1799 and a full member three years later. He traveled widely throughout his career, extensively touring England and Scotland and later France, Switzerland, and Italy. In 1807 he became professor of perspective at the Royal Academy and in 1845 was appointed deputy professor. Turner's early paintings were predominantly watercolors and his subjects mostly landscapes. By the late 1790s he had started exhibiting his first oil paintings, eventually transferring to the oils the same vibrance of color that had proved so successful in his watercolors. His mature work falls into three periods.

During the first period (1800-20) Turner painted many picturesque mythological and historical scenes in which the coloring was subdued and details and contours were emphasized. He was influenced by the 17th-century French landscape painter Claude Lorrain, notably in the use of atmospheric effects, as in The Sun Rising Through Vapor (1807, National Gallery, London), and in the treatment of architectural forms, as in Dido Building Carthage (1815, National Gallery). Turner also produced numerous engravings for his unfinished collection Liber Studiorum (1806-19).

The paintings of the artist's second period (1820-35) are characterized by more brilliant coloring and by diffusion of light. In two of Turner's best works, Bay of Baiae (1823, National Gallery) and Ulysses Deriding Polyphemus (1829, National Gallery), his use of light lends radiance to the colors and softens architectural and topographical forms and shadows. During this period he also executed a number of illustrations for books on topography and a collection of watercolors depicting Venetian scenes.

Turner's artistic genius reached its culmination during his third period (1835-45). In such works as Snow Storm: Steam Boat Off a Harbor's Mouth (1842, Tate Gallery, London), Peace—Burial at Sea (1842, Tate Gallery), and Rain, Steam, and Speed (1844, National Gallery), he achieved a vibrant sense of force by presenting objects as indistinct masses within a glowing haze of color. Some of the forces represented are the strength of the sea and the rhythm of rain. Other famous works of this period include The Fighting Téméraire (1839, National Gallery), The Sun of Venice Going to Sea (1843, National Gallery), and The Approach to Venice (1844, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.). Turner died in London on December 19, 1851.

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