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Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851)

Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) was an English painter and graphic artist. He is known especially for his luminous, imaginative landscapes and seascapes. A prolific artist, Turner did thousands of sketches, engravings, watercolors, and oils. His interest i the effect of light and color upon form foreshadowed the work of the impressionist. Turner’s works are usually divided into three styles. In his early period, he painted landscapes and historical pictures in quiet tones of green, blue, and brown, using the brighter colors very sparingly. About 1819, after a trip to Italy, a change came over his work. He began to use brighter, purer colors, without dark shadows. During his middle period his works, such as The Fighting Temeraire, became more impressionistic. Turner became more absorbed in color and light, and the works of his last period grew more abstract. In Burning of the Houses of Parliament and Rain, Steam and Speed light, color and atmosphere dominate; form and subject are barely suggested. Steamer in a Snowstorm shows his use of swirling masses of color to express emotion. These later works were ridiculed by his contemporaries, but they have much in common with 20th-century abstract painting and are now widely admired. Turner was born in London, the son of a barber. He had very little schooling but early showed a talent for drawing. He entered the Royal Academy school at 14 and first exhibited there at 15. When 24, Turner was elected an associate of the Royal Academy. He became a full-time member in 1802 and was appointed professor of perspective in 1807. In his will, Turner left most of his works to the British People. About 300 oil paintings and sketches and about 19,000 drawings and watercolors are exhibited in the National Gallery, the Tate Gallery, and the British Museum. He lived in London all his life, retaining his Cockney accent and assiduously avoiding the trappings of success and fame. Intensely private, eccentric, and reclusive, Turner was a controversial figure throughout his career. He became more pessimistic and morose as he got older, especially after the death of his father, after which his outlook deteriorated, his gallery fell into disrepair and neglect, and his art intensified. In 1841 Turner rowed a boat into the Thames so he could not be counted as present at any property. He lived in squalor and poor health from 1845. Turner left a small fortune that he hoped would be used to support what he called “decayed artists”.

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