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Joseph Mallord William Turner – Virtual Tour

J. M. W. Turner

J.M.W. Turner – Virtual Tour

Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775 – 1851), later more commonly called J. M. W. Turner, entered the Royal Academy of Art in 1789, aged 14.

His first watercolor was accepted for the Royal Academy summer exhibition of 1790 when Turner was 15.

From a young art student trained in executing topographical watercolors, he became one of the most original artists of his time.

Turner was a Romantic painter, printmaker, and watercolorist, today known for his vivid coloration, imaginative landscapes, and turbulent marine paintings.

As a private, eccentric, and reclusive figure, Turner was controversial throughout his career. He left over 2,000 paintings and 19,000 drawings and sketches.

A Virtual Tour of J.M.W. Turner’s Paintings

Highlights of J.M.W. Turner’s Masterpieces

The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons

“The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons” by J. M. W. Turner depicts the fire that broke out at the Houses of Parliament in 1834.

Turner himself witnessed the Burning of Parliament from the south bank of the River Thames, opposite Westminster. The painting shows the Houses of Parliament overwhelmed in golden flames.

The fire is consuming the chamber of the House of Commons and is illuminating the towers of Westminster Abbey. The fire reflects in the water and on a crowd of spectators in the foreground.

To the right of the painting, Westminster Bridge looms bright white from the light of the fire. The perspective of the bridge closest to the fire is distorted, emphasizing the fire’s’ destruction. Museum: Philadelphia Museum of Art

The Fighting Temeraire

The Fighting Temeraire is an oil painting by the English artist Joseph Mallord William Turner.

The painting depicts the H.M.S. Temeraire, a battle-aged and decommissioned gunship being towed by a paddle-wheel steam tug to her last berth in 1838 to be broken up for scrap.

This painting was an immediate success for Turner, with the critics and the public, but he never sold it. Turner refused offers to buy the picture, having determined to leave it to the nation. He called this work his “darling.” Museum: National Gallery, London

Modern Rome – Campo Vaccino

“Modern Rome – Campo Vaccino” by J.M.W. Turner is a landscape vision of the unexcavated Roman Forum, still called the Campo Vaccino meaning “Cow Pasture,” shimmering in the hazy light.

Ten years after his final journey to Rome, Turner envisioned Rome from his memory. The churches and ancient monuments in and around the Roman Forum are dissolving in bright colors.

The moon is rising on the left, and the sun is setting behind the Capitoline Hill at the right. Museum: Getty Museum

The Burning of the Houses of Parliament

“The Burning of the Houses of Parliament” by J. M. W. Turner depicts the view from downstream, close to Waterloo Bridge, and shows the fire and smoke blowing dramatically over the Thames as the London spectators look on from the river bank and boats.

Turner made multiple sketches using both pencil and watercolor in two sketchbooks from different vantage points, including from a boat.

Turner also painted an earlier painting in the same year, on the same subject, with a perspective from further upstream, next to Westminster Bridge. Museum: Cleveland Museum of Art

Joseph Mallord William Turner

Newport Castle

Newport Castle by J. M. W. Turner depicts a nostalgic view of Newport Castle overlooking the river with sailing vessels moored and anchored beside the massive walls of the castle.

The arched entrance has stakes in the water for mooring. A figure is launching a rowing boat in front of the arch. Newport Castle is a ruined castle in Newport, Wales, which was built in the 14th century, to manage and control the crossing of the River Usk.

In 1402 it was sacked by a Welsh ruler who instigated a fierce and long-running but ultimately unsuccessful revolt against the English rule of Wales.

Newport Castle then fell into disrepair and was taken by Oliver Cromwell’s forces during the Civil War. Its use declined further in later centuries.

In the 19th century, the buildings within the ruin were used as a tannery and later as a brewery. Museum: The British Museum

The Grand Canal, Venice

“The Grand Canal, Venice” by J. M. W. Turner was painted on his second visit to Venice, probably in 1833. Turner created a series of views of the city that displayed his interest in capturing a scene through the lens of his Romantic sensibility.

Turner was the master in portraying nature with dramatic light and color that permeates most of his paintings.

This painting is renowned for the way the foundations of the palaces of Venice merge into the waters of the canal through subtle reflections. This painting was shown in 1835 at the Royal Academy, where it was well-received as one of his “most agreeable works.” Museum: Metropolitan Museum of Art – M.E.T.

Rain, Steam, and Speed – The Great Western Railway

Rain, Steam, and Speed – The Great Western Railway by J. M. W. Turner depicts an early British steam train on a railway bridge, crossing the River Thames with a view that is looking east towards London.

The Great Western Railway, as referred to in the title, was one of several private British railway companies created to develop what was a new means of transport.

Art historians have suggested that Turner, in this painting, is hinting at the danger of man’s new technology, destroying or competing with elements of nature. Museum: The National Gallery, London

Dido Building Carthage

“Dido Building Carthage” by J. M. W. Turner depicts the classic story from Virgil’s Aeneid in which Dido, the figure in blue and white on the left, is directing the builders of the new city of Carthage.

The figure in front of her, wearing armor, is her Trojan lover Aeneas. The children playing with a toy boat symbolize the future naval power of Carthage.

The tomb of her dead husband Sychaeus, on the right bank of the estuary, foreshadows the eventual destruction of Carthage by the Roman descendants of Aeneas. Museum:  The National Gallery, London

Snow Storm: Steamboat off a Harbour’s Mouth

“Snow Storm: Steamboat off a Harbour’s Mouth” by J.M.W. Turner depicts a paddle steamer caught in a snowstorm.

Turner was unrivaled in painting the natural world untamed by humanity and exploring the effects of the elements and the battle of the forces of nature.

This painting represents Turner’s later style with tints and shades of colors, painted in different layers, the brushstrokes adding texture to the canvas.

The pale silvery light that surrounds the boat creates a focal point, drawing the viewer into the painting. The smoke from the steamboat spreads out over the sky, creating abstract shapes of the same quality as the waves. Museum: Tate Britain

The Slave Ship

“The Slave Ship” by J. M. W. Turner was initially titled “Slavers Throwing overboard the Dead and Dying—Typhoon coming on.”

Turner has depicted a ship, visible in the background, sailing through a tumultuous sea of churning water and leaving scattered human forms floating in its wake.

Turner was inspired to paint this picture after reading about the Zong massacre, in which a captain of a slave ship ordered 133 slaves to be thrown overboard in 1781 so that insurance payments could be collected. Museum:   Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Snow Storm: Hannibal and his Army Crossing the Alps

“Snow Storm: Hannibal and his Army Crossing the Alps” by J.M.W. Turner depicts the challenging efforts of Hannibal’s soldiers to cross the Alps in 218 BC, with Salassian tribesmen fighting Hannibal’s rearguard.

At the same time, a curving menacing black storm cloud dominates the sky, poised to descend on the soldiers below, with an orange sun attempting to break through the clouds.

Meanwhile, on the right of the valley, a white snow avalanche is cascading down the mountain. Museum: Tate Britain

J.M.W. Turner Film

The Decline of the Carthaginian Empire

“The Decline of the Carthaginian Empire” by J. M. W. Turner depicts the final days of the capital city of the ancient Carthaginian civilization.

Carthage was once the most important trading hub of the Ancient Mediterranean and one of the most affluent cities of the Ancient World. 

However, as Roman power and ambition increased, the Romans fought three wars against Carthage. The Roman Republic eventually destroyed the ancient city in the Third Punic War in 146 BC.

As the Carthaginian Empire fell, another superpower in the form of the Roman Empire rose. Museum: Tate Britain


“Whalers” by J. M. W. Turner depicts a whaling ship and her whaleboats pursuing a whale. The sperm whale appears to be wounded, thrashing in a sea of foam and blood.

The whale is alive in color while in the background is a ghostly white three-masted whaling vessel. Turner was seventy years old when be completed “Whalers” for the Royal Academy exhibition of 1845.

Turner undertook the painting, for a collector who had made his fortune in the whale-oil business. The painting was returned to him, and it had mixed critical reviews.

As in other regards, Turner was ahead of his time in how he perceived the business of whaling. Museum: Metropolitan Museum of Art – MET

Venice, the Bridge of Sighs

“Venice, the Bridge of Sighs” by J. M. W. Turner depicts several famous landmarks in Venice. The enclosed “Bridge of Sighs” connects the Doge’s Palace on the left with the prisons of the Palazzo dei Prigioni to the right. 

The Bridge of Sighs is an enclosed arch bridge made of white limestone, which was built in 1600.

The Bridge of Sighs crossed the Rio di Palazzo waterway and has windows with stone bars. It connects the New Prison to the interrogation rooms in the Doge’s Palace. Museum:    Tate Britain

The Harbor of Dieppe

“The Harbor of Dieppe” by J.M.W. Turner shows the brilliant light that each day transformed the commercial French harbor in the early morning. The sun is depicted as a white fireball in the sky and reflected as a muted yellow in the water below.

The sun’s reflection on the water draws the viewer into the painting, as the two arms of the city, with its buildings and boats, reach around and point to the distant horizon. 

Turner created this composition from the many sketches he had made on-site in earlier years, detailing the building structures along the right side of the paintings, many of which still stand today.

Long before steamships and railroads, Dieppe, as portrayed by Turner in 1826, was one of the key French ports for goods transiting to and from England.

In Normandy, Turner visited Dieppe’s French port twice before painting this canvas in his London studio. In this romantic view, steamboats and other signs of modernization are ignored in the artist’s imagination.


Self-Portrait by J. M. W. Turner dated to around 1799 when Turner was about twenty-four years old.

It was an important moment in his career, as he was elected as an Associate of the Royal Academy. He had been described as an artist who:

“seems thoroughly to understand the mode of adjusting and applying his various materials’ and ‘their effect in oil or on paper is equally sublime.”

Despite his youth, Turner had already made a name for himself as an original, accomplished painter. Museum: Tate Britain


  • Title:                Self-Portrait
  • Artist:              J.M.W. Turner
  • Year:                1799
  • Medium:         Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions:    743 x 584 mm
  • Museum:         Tate Britain

Joseph Mallord William Turner

  • Name:             Joseph Mallord William Turner
  • Born:               1775 – Covent Garden, London, England
  • Died:               1851 (aged 76)  – Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, England
  • Nationality:     English
  • Movement      Romanticism

The Genius of Turner

Famous Artists You Should Know

J. M. W. Turner Quotes


“To select, combine, and concentrate that which is beautiful in nature and admirable in art is as much the business of the landscape painter in his line as in the other departments of art.”


“I have no secret but hard work. This is a secret that many never learn, and they don’t succeed because they don’t learn it. Labor is the genius that changes the world from ugliness to beauty and the great curse to a great blessing.”


“I don’t paint so that people will understand me; I paint to show what a particular scene looks like.”


“It is necessary to mark the greater from, the lesser truth: namely, the larger and more liberal idea of nature from the comparatively narrow and confined; namely that which addresses itself to the imagination from that which is solely addressed to the eye.”


“It is only when we are no longer fearful that we begin to create.”


“I did not paint… to be understood. I wished to show what such a scene was like.”


Turner: A collection of 1530 paintings


“I know of no genius but the genius of hard work.”
– J. M. W. Turner


Photo Credit: 1) J. M. W. Turner [Public domain]

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