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Turner was born in Maiden Lane, Covent Garden, London, to a modest lower-middle-class family. He lived in London all his life, retaining his Cockney accent and assiduously avoiding the trappings of success and fame. A child prodigy, Turner studied at the Royal Academy of Arts from 1789, enrolling when he was 14, and exhibited his first work there at 15. During this period, he also served as an architectural draftsman. He earned a steady income from commissions and sales, which due to his troubled, contrary nature, were often begrudgingly accepted. He opened his own gallery in 1804 and became professor of perspective at the academy in 1807, where he lectured until 1828, although he was viewed as profoundly inarticulate. He travelled to Europe from 1802, typically returning with voluminous sketchbooks.

Joseph Mallord William Turner (* 23 April 1775 in London; † 19 December 1851 in Chelsea, London) was an English painter, watercolourist and draughtsman. He is considered the most important visual artist in England during the Romantic period.. He is known for his expressive colourisations, imaginative landscapes and turbulent, often violent marine paintings. He left behind more than 550 oil paintings, 2,000 watercolours, and 30,000 works on paper. The leading English art critic John Ruskin championed it from 1840 and is now considered to have elevated landscape painting to an eminence that rivals history painting.


Joseph Mallord William Turner


Oil on canvas, 91,0 x 122,0 cm
The National Gallery, London, UK
© Bridgeman Images

99 | The Fighting Temeraire tugged to her last Berth to be broken up (Die letzte Fahrt der Temeraire), 1838

Oil on canvas, 91,5 x 122,0 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., USA

100 | Venice: The Dogana and San Giorgio Maggiore (Dogana und San Giorgio Maggiore, Venedig), 1834



Turner was very private, eccentric, and withdrawn, and a controversial figure throughout his career. He did not marry, but had two daughters, Eveline (1801–1874) and Georgiana (1811–1843), of his housekeeper Sarah Danby. He became more pessimistic and grumpy as he got older, especially after his father's death, after his vision deteriorated, his gallery fell into disrepair. In 1841, Turner rowed a boat into the Thames so he could not be counted as present on any property in this year's census. He lived in misery and poor health from 1845 and died in London in 1851 at the age of 76. Turner is buried in Saint Paul's Cathedral in London.

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