Turner, Joseph Mallord William

Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus.

Turner, Joseph Mallord William,

1775–1851, English landscape painter, b. London. Turner was the foremost English romantic painter and the most original of English landscape artists; in watercolor he is unsurpassed. The son of a barber, he received almost no general education but at 14 was already a student at the Royal Academy of Arts and three years later was making topographical drawings for magazines. In 1791 for the first time he exhibited two watercolors at the Royal Academy. In the following 10 years he exhibited there regularly, was elected a member (1802), and was made professor of perspective (1807). By 1799 the sale of his work had freed him from drudgery and he devoted himself to the visionary interpretations of landscape for which he became famous.

In 1802, Turner made a trip to the Continent, where he painted his famous Calais Pier (National Gall., London). From then on he traveled constantly in England or abroad, making innumerable direct sketches from which he drew material for his studio paintings in oil and watercolor. Turner showed a remarkable ability to distill the best from the tradition of landscape painting and he helped to further elevate landscape (and seascape) as important artistic subject matter. The influence of the Dutch masters is apparent in his Sun Rising through Vapor (National Gall., London). In the vein of the French classical landscape painter, Claude LorrainClaude Lorrain
, whose original name was Claude Gelée or Gellée
, 1600–1682, French painter, b. Lorraine. Claude was the foremost landscape painter of his time.
..... Click the link for more information.
, he produced the Liber Studiorum (1807–19), 70 drawings that were later reproduced by engraving under Turner's supervision. Among the paintings evocative of Claude's style are his Dido Building Carthage (National Gall., London) and Crossing the Brook (Tate Gall., London). Despite his early and continued success Turner lived the life of a recluse. As his fame grew he maintained a large gallery in London for exhibition of his work, but continued to live quietly with his elderly father.

Turner's painting became increasingly abstract as he strove to portray light, space, and the elemental forces of nature. In fact, some of his modern admirers have noted that the true subjects of his late paintings are the radiance of light and the vitality of paint itself. Characteristic of his later period are such paintings as The Fighting Téméraire and Rain, Steam, and Speed (both: National Gall., London). His late Venetian works, which describe atmospheric effects with brighter colors, include The Grand Canal (Metropolitan Mus.) and Approach to Venice (National Gall. of Art, Washington, D.C.). Turner encountered violent criticism as his style became increasingly free, but he was passionately defended by Sir Thomas LawrenceLawrence, Sir Thomas,
1769–1830, English portrait painter, b. Bristol. He began to draw when very young and developed extraordinary talents as a draftsman; though he studied briefly at the Royal Academy, he was mainly self-taught.
..... Click the link for more information.
 and the youthful RuskinRuskin, John,
1819–1900, English critic and social theorist. During the mid-19th cent. Ruskin was the virtual dictator of artistic opinion in England, but Ruskin's reputation declined after his death, and he has been treated harshly by 20th-century critics.
..... Click the link for more information.
. Visionary, revolutionary, and extremely influential, these late paintings laid the groundwork for impressionismimpressionism,
in painting, late-19th-century French school that was generally characterized by the attempt to depict transitory visual impressions, often painted directly from nature, and by the use of pure, broken color to achieve brilliance and luminosity.
..... Click the link for more information.
, postimpressionismpostimpressionism,
term coined by Roger Fry to refer to the work of a number of French painters active at the end of the 19th cent. who, although they developed their varied styles quite independently, were united in their rejection of impressionism.
..... Click the link for more information.
, abstract expressionismabstract expressionism,
movement of abstract painting that emerged in New York City during the mid-1940s and attained singular prominence in American art in the following decade; also called action painting and the New York school.
..... Click the link for more information.
, color-field paintingcolor-field painting,
abstract art movement that originated in the 1960s. Coming after the abstract expressionism of the 1950s, color-field painting represents a sharp change from the earlier movement.
..... Click the link for more information.
, and a myriad of other art movements of the late 19th and 20th cents. Turner's will, which was under litigation for many years, left more than 19,000 watercolors, drawings, and oils to the British nation. Most of these works are in the National Gallery and the Tate Gallery, London. Many of Turner's oils have deteriorated badly.


See his watercolors (ed. by M. Butlin, 1962); catalog by A. J. Finberg (1968); biographies by A. J. Finberg (2d ed. 1961), J. Lindsay (1966), A. Bailey (1998), J. Woodhouse (2000), J. Hamilton (2003), and F. Moyle (2016); studies by J. Rothenstein and M. Butlin (1964), L. Gowing (1966), J. Gage (1969), and W. Gaunt (1971); M. Butlin and E. Joll, The Paintings and Drawings of J. W. M. Turner (1987); W. S. Rodner, J. M. W. Turner: Romantic Painter of the Industrial Revolution (1997); G. Finley, Angel in the Sun: Turner's Vision of History (1999); I. Warrell, Turner and Venice (2004).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved. www.cc.columbia.edu/cu/cup/
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Turner, Joseph Mallord William


Born Apr. 23, 1775, in London; died there Dec. 19, 1851. English painter.

Turner studied at the Royal Academy in London from 1789 to 1793. He became a member of the academy in 1802 and a professor in 1808. Beginning in the late 1790’s he adopted and elaborated the motifs of 17th-century Dutch marine paintings and those of Claude Lorrain’s and R. Wilson’s landscapes. As he turned to biblical, mythological, and historical themes, he evinced a growing tendency toward romantic fantasy, for example, in his portrayals of the dramatic struggle between the forces of nature, and for unusual effects of lighting. Beginning in the 1820’s, Turner, still preoccupied mainly with marine painting, developed a freer and more dynamic style. His works were marked by vivid contrasts of shimmering tones that merge in a harmonious light spectrum and by objects with contours that simultaneously blend and divide.

Among Turner’s major works are Ulysses Deriding Polyphemus (1828–29), The Fighting “Téméraire” Towed to Her Last Berth (1838), and Rain, Steam, and Speed (1844), all at the National Gallery in London. Shipwreck (1805, Tate Gallery, London) is one of his best-known paintings. Turner also created many watercolors, drawings, and engravings.


Nekrasova, E. A. Temer. Moscow, 1976.
Finberg, A. J. The Life of J. M. W. Turner, 2nd ed. Oxford, 1961.
J. M. W. Turner. London, 1974..
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.