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Joseph Mallord William Turner

British Painter

Joseph Mallord William Turner Photo
Movements and Styles: Romanticism, Realism, The Sublime in Art

Born: April 23, 1775 - Covent Garden, London, England

Died: December 19, 1851 - Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, England

"My job is to draw what I see, not what I know."

J.M.W. Turner Signature

Summary of Joseph Mallord William Turner

Turner took classical genres and scenes - the stately landscape in well-designed compositions and historical events writ large - and infused them with a new dynamic in painting. He reflected on the increasing importance of individual experience in the era of the Enlightenment, where the perceptions of human beings led to exalted personal moments and sublime interactions with nature. Through this dedication to rendering heightened states of consciousness and being, he helped define the cross-disciplinary artistic movement of Romanticism, setting the stage for later developments in painting subjective experiences that would lead to Impressionism. In some of his later works especially, Turner responded to the arrival of the modern era by making the contraptions of human invention powerfully, sometimes threateningly present.

Key Ideas

Striving for greater subjective effects, he ignored and even exploded the precise rendering of details and static scenes that previous generations' masters and his peers still pursued. Instead he developed painterly effects to render perceptions from closely observed nature, resulting in swirling clouds of varied light and bold arrays of color dabbed in oil. Many of these techniques in paint to evoke sensations of the "Sublime" would become the substance and subject matter of the generation of painters working in Abstract Expressionism.
The subjects chosen for many of his paintings emphasized the power of nature in a way that had not previously been depicted - making the human figure and all that civilization had built seem minuscule and fragile in comparison.
Turner helped establish landscape painting - and especially its water-based corollary, seascapes - as an artistic genre for greater respect and exploration, compared to what had existed before or during his own time.
Turner also incorporated novel motifs from the modern industrial era into his paintings - steamships and railway trains figuring prominently - foreshadowing a recurrent fascination with these elements of modern life that would figure in later generations of visual artists - from the Futurists, muralists such as Diego Rivera to contemporary artists such as Matthew Barney.
Joseph Mallord William Turner Photo

Joseph Mallord William Turner's actual birthdate is unconfirmed, but he was baptized on May 14, 1775. His father, William Turner was a barber and wig maker and his mother, Mary Marshall, came from a family of butchers. His younger sister, Mary Ann, was born in September 1778, but died when she was 5 years old.

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