The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Turner, Joseph Mallord William

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The Encyclopedia Americana
Turner, Joseph Mallord William
Edition of 1920. See also J. M. W. Turner on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

TURNER, Joseph Mallord William, English painter: b. London, 23 April 1775; d. Chelsea, 19 Dec 1851. He entered the Royal Academy as a student, and after remaining there in that capacity for five years and working actively at his profession for another five, during which periods he sent to the exhibition no less than 59 pictures, he was elected in 1799 an associate of the Royal Academy. In the two following years he exhibited 14 pictures, and in 1802 was elected an academician. Until this date he had chiefly been known as a landscape painter in water-colors, but thenceforth he turned his attention to oil-painting, and in the ensuing half century produced at the Academy exhibitions upward of 200 pictures. In 1807 he was elected professor of perspective in the Royal Academy, and the following year appeared his ‘Liber Studiorum’ or ‘Book of Studies,’ which Charles Turner, Lupton and others engraved. Other works by him which were engraved are his illustrations of Lord Byron's and Sir Walter Scott's poems; Rogers' ‘Italy’ and ‘Poems’; ‘The Rivers of England’; ‘The Rivers of France’ and ‘Scenery of the Southern Coast.’ To enumerate the different paintings of Turner would be impossible. They have established him as the greatest of English landscape painters and earned for him the appellation of the “English Claude”; indeed many of his admirers pronounce him superior to the great French painter of that name. Among his more famous pictures reference may specially be made to his ‘Kilchurn Castle’; ‘Loch Awe’; ‘The Tenth Plague of Egypt’; ‘The Wreck of the Minotaur’; ‘Calais Pier’; ‘The Fighting Téméraire Tugged to her Last Berth’; ‘The Grand Canal, Venice’; ‘Dido and Æneas’; ‘The Golden Bough’; ‘Modern Italy’; ‘The Fall of Carthage’; and ‘The Building of Carthage.’ In private life Turner was a man rather of reserved and unsocial manners, but the reports circulated of his parsimony and sullenness appear to have been quite untrue, and many instances are recorded of his liberal and generous acts both as a man and an artist. He never was married. By his will he bequeathed all his pictures, of which he had about 60 in his possession at his death, along with an immense number of engravings and sketches, to the nation, on condition of a suitable building being erected within 10 years for their reception. They have been placed in the Turner Gallery, occupying two rooms in the National Gallery. He also intended a large part of bis fortune to be devoted to the formation of a benevolent fund for artists, but this intention, though clearly enough expressed, was set aside by the lawyers because of the somewhat confused nature of his will. Turner owes his immense reputation largely to the brilliant advocacy of John Rushkin (q.v.) in his ‘Modern Painters.’ Mr. Ruskin divides his career, from an artistic point of view, into five periods: a period of development, three periods of greatness and one of decline. His development period ended with 1800. It includes these, among other works: ‘A View of the Archbishop's Palace at Lambeth’ (1790); ‘The Pantheon the Morning after the Fire’ (1792). His first style lasted from about the beginning of the century to about 1820, and in it he “labored as a student, imitating various old masters.” The principal pictures of this period are ‘The Fifth Plague of Egypt’ (1800); ‘The Tenth Plague of Egypt’ (1802); ‘Kilchurn Castle’ (1802); ‘Calais Pier’ (1803); ‘The Shipwreck’ (1805); and ‘Dido building Carthage’ (1815). The ‘Liber Studiorum’ also belongs to the period of his first style. His second style prevailed, according to Ruskin, from about 1820 to about 1835, and was characterised by freedom from mere imitation and by striving for beautiful, ideal effects. Among the works which illustrate it are the following: ‘The Bay of Baise,’ with ‘Apollo and the Sibyl’ (1823); ‘Cologne’ (1826); ‘Dido directing the Equipment of the Fleet’ (1828): and ‘Ulysses deriding Polyphemus’ (1829). During his third period, 1835-45, he produced many splendid works of marked individuality, but shallow critics began to ridicule him and his work, and full appreciation of his genius did not come until Ruskin entered the lists in 1843. The following represents his third style: ‘Mercury and Argus’ (1836); ‘Snowstorm, Avalanche, and Inundation’ (1837); ‘Modern Italy’ (1838); ‘Ancient Italy’ (1838); ‘The fighting Téméraire Tugged to her Last Berth’ (1839), his best known picture; ‘The Campo Santo’ (l842); ‘The Snowstorm’ (1842); ‘Peace — Burial at Sea’ (1842); ‘The Approach to Venice’ (1843): and ‘Rain, Steam and Speed’ (1844). The remaining years of his life were years of decline, but his genius still asserted itself fitfully. The Metropolitan Museum and the New York Public Library have several good examples of the work of this artist. Consult Ruskin, ‘Modern Painters,’ biographies by Thornbury (New York 1862); Hamerton (Boston 1879); Monkhouse (New York 1882); Armstrong, Sir W., ‘J. W. Turner’ (New York 1901); Wornum, ‘Turner Gallery’ (18S9); Wedmore, ‘Turner and Ruskin’ (2 vols., London 1900); Cook's Handbook to the National Gallery; Rawlinson, W. G., ‘Turner's Liber Studiorum: Description and Catalogue’ (2d ed., New York 1907); Finbery, A. J., ‘Turner's Sketches and Drawings’ (ib. 1910); Phythian, J. E., ‘Turner’ (ib. 1911); Wyllie, W. L., 'J. M. W. Turner' (ib. 1905). See also the article Painting for an indication of his position in the history of painting.