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Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

Joseph Mallord William Turner

J. M. W. Turner

J.M.W. Turner

Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775 – 1851), later more commonly called J. M. W. Turner entered the Royal Academy of Art in 1789, aged 14, and his first watercolour was accepted for the Royal Academy summer exhibition of 1790 when Turner was 15. From a young art student trained in executing topographical watercolours, he became one of the most original artists of his time.

Turner was a Romantic painter, printmaker and watercolourist, today known for his vivid colouration, 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.

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 emphasising 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 HMS 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 painting, 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. With churches and ancient monuments in and around the Roman Forum dissolving in bright colours as the light from 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 watercolour 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
  • 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 large walls of the castle. The arched entrance has stakes in the water for mooring, and a figure is storing or 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, and 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 colour 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 – MET
  • 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 a number of 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 armour is her Trojan lover Aeneas. The children playing with a toy boat symbolise the future naval power of Carthage and 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: Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth
    • “Snow Storm: Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth” by J.M.W. Turner depicts a paddle steamer caught in a snowstorm. Turner was unrivalled 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 colours, 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 originally 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

Joseph Mallord William Turner

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Reflections

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

J. M. W. Turner Quotes

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“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.”

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“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. Labour is the genius that changes the world from ugliness to beauty and the great curse to a great blessing.”

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

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“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.”

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

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

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

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

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