Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Turner, Joseph Mallord William
TURNER, JOSEPH MALLORD (or MALLAD) WILLIAM (1775–1851), landscape-painter, born on 23 April 1775, was the son of William Turner, barber, of 26 Maiden Lane, London, in the parish of St. Paul's, Covent Garden, who married on 29 Aug. 1773 Mary Marshall. He was named after his mother's eldest brother. In the parish register his second christian name is written Mallad. His paternal grandfather and grandmother spent all their days at South Molton, Devonshire. His mother was a woman of ungovernable temper, and became insane towards the end of her days. She had a brother who was a fishmonger at Margate, and another who was a butcher at Brentford, and a sister who married a curate at Islington named Harpur, the grandfather of Henry Harpur, one of Turner's executors. She is said to have been related to the Marshalls of Shelford Manor in the county of Nottingham.
At a very early age Turner sketched a coat-of-arms from a set of castors belonging to one of his father's customers, a Mr. Tomkison, a jeweller in Southampton Street, Covent Garden, the father of a celebrated maker of pianofortes (Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. v. 475), and he made a drawing of Margate church when nine years old, shortly before he went to his first school at Brentford, kept by John White. Here, besides ornamenting walls and copybooks with cocks, hens, &c., he coloured about 140 engravings in Boswell's ‘Antiquities of England and Wales’ with remarkable cleverness for John Lees, foreman of the distillery at Brentford, for about fourpence a plate, and it is probable that even before this time he made drawings (some, if not all of them, copies of engravings coloured) which were sold at his father's shop for one or more shillings a piece. (One of these, an interior of Westminster Abbey, is in Mr. Crowle's copy of Pennant's ‘London’ in the British Museum). His father's shop was frequented by many artists, including Thomas Stothard [q. v.]; and his father, who at first meant him to be a barber, soon determined that he was to be an artist. Though Turner said, ‘Dad never praised me for anything but saving a halfpenny,’ they were always attached to each other, and his father did his best to enable him to follow his bent. He was sent in 1786 to the Soho Academy, where a Mr. Palice was floral drawing master. About this time he appears to have been for a short while with Humphry Repton [q. v.], the landscape-gardener, at Romford (Notes and Queries, 3rd ser. i. 484). In 1788 he went to a school at Margate, kept by Mr. Coleman. Before 1789 he was placed with Thomas Malton [q. v.] to learn perspective, but proved a dull pupil, though he must have learnt a good deal from Malton, whom he called his real master. He also seems to have learnt much from Dayes (Girtin's master), some of whose etchings of costume he coloured [see Dayes, Edward]. He was also employed in colouring prints for John Raphael Smith [q. v.] and washing in backgrounds for architects, including William Porden [q. v.], who offered to take him as an apprentice without fee. His father, however, preferred to send him to Thomas Hardwick [q. v.], and devoted the whole of a legacy to pay the premium. Hardwick advised Turner to be a landscape-painter, and at his suggestion Turner entered the Academy schools in 1789, where he drew ‘The Genius of the Vatican,’ &c., and was the companion and confederate in boyish mischief of Robert (afterwards Sir Robert) Ker Porter [q. v.] and Henry Aston Barker [q. v.] He was admitted to the studio of Sir Joshua Reynolds, and copied some of his portraits, including one of Sir Joshua himself.
In 1790 he exhibited his first drawing at the Royal Academy, ‘A View of the Archbishop's Palace at Lambeth’ (lent by Mrs. Courtauld to the winter exhibition of the Royal Academy in 1887). In 1791 he sent two drawings, ‘King John's Palace, Eltham,’ and ‘Sweakley, near Uxbridge, the seat of the Rev. Mr. Clarke,’ and in 1792 ‘Malmesbury Abbey’ and ‘The Pantheon the Morning after the Fire,’ the first sign of originality in choice of subject. In 1792 he received a commission from John Walker, the engraver [q. v.], to make drawings for the ‘Copperplate Magazine,’ the first engraving from which, ‘Rochester,’ appeared in May 1794.
It was probably in 1792 that he made his first sketching tour of any length. He started from the house of his friend Narraway, a fellmonger of Bristol, on a pony lent by that gentleman. The exhibition of 1793 contained two views of Bristol by him, one of which, ‘Rising Squalls, Hot Wells,’ is said to have been in oil colours (Redgrave, Dict.) The catalogue of this year records that he had set up a studio for himself in Hand Court, Maiden Lane. The drawings for Walker's ‘Copperplate Magazine’ and Harrison's ‘Pocket Magazine’ kept him well employed for a few years, during which he travelled over a great part of England and Wales, south of Chester and Lincoln, mostly on foot, walking twenty to twenty-five miles a day with his baggage at the end of a stick. The exhibited drawings of this period (1790–1797) were mostly of cathedrals, abbeys, bridges, and towns, but in 1796 and 1797 he exhibited two seapieces, ‘Fishermen at Sea’ and ‘Fishermen coming ashore at Sunset, previous to a Gale,’ and ‘Moonlight: a study at Millbank’ (said in the catalogue of the National Gallery to have been his first exhibited work in oil colours). At this time he gave lessons in drawing at five shillings, and later at a guinea, a lesson; but he did not care for teaching.
It is probable that during this period Turner was often the companion of Thomas Girtin [q. v.] As boys they sketched together on the banks of the Thames and elsewhere in London and its neighbourhood. He once told David Roberts, ‘Girtin and I have often walked to Bushey and back to make drawings for good Dr. Monro at half a crown apiece and a supper.’ They were both of the party of young artists who gathered in the evenings at Dr. Monro's in the Adelphi Terrace [see Monro, Thomas, (1759–1833)]. The first entry of Turner's name in Dr. Monro's ‘Diary’ is in 1793 (see Roget, ‘Old Watercolour’ Society). There they copied drawings by Paul Sandby [q. v.], Thomas Hearne (1744–1817) [q. v.], John Robert Cozens [q. v.], and other watercolourists, and had the opportunity of studying works by Gainsborough, Morland, Wilson, De Loutherbourg, Salvator Rosa, Rembrandt, Claude, Van de Velde, and others. The drawings made by Turner were generally in neutral tint, and are known as his ‘grey’ drawings. They are by no means slavish copies, and are exquisite in gradation. Mr. Ruskin says that Dr. Monro was Turner's true master. Another kind patron of both Girtin and Turner was John Henderson, the father of John Henderson (1797–1878) [q. v.] Down to 1797 Turner's subjects were principally architectural and topographical, though distinguished by their original and delicate treatment of light, especially in interiors like the ‘Choir of Salisbury Cathedral’ and the ‘South Transept, Ely.’ But in this year his emulation was excited by the success of Girtin's drawings of York, Jedburgh Abbey, &c., and he started on his first tour in Yorkshire and the north. The result of this tour was an extraordinary development of artistic power and feeling, and in the academy of 1798 he proclaimed distinctly his genius as a painter of poetical landscape by works in oil and watercolours, among which were ‘Morning on the Coniston Fells, Cumberland’ (now in the National Gallery), ‘Dunstanburgh Castle’ belonging to the Duke of Westminster, and ‘Norham Castle on the Tweed—Summer's Morn,’ a drawing to which he attributed his success in life. He repeated the subject several times. With this journey is associated his introduction to Dr. Whitaker [see Whitaker, Thomas Dunham], for whom he illustrated several local histories. The first of these, ‘The Parish of Whalley,’ appeared in 1800, and included an engraving of Farnley Hall, the residence of Mr. Fawkes, who was afterwards to be one of his best patrons and most intimate friends. About this time he was employed by Lord Harewood and William Beckford of Fonthill. In 1799 the competition between himself and Girtin was keen at the academy. His subjects were principally Welsh, including Harlech and Dolbadern castles, and the drawing of Warkworth Castle, now at South Kensington. He also exhibited his first picture of a naval engagement, ‘The Battle of the Nile,’ and was elected an associate of the Royal Academy. He was now only twenty-four years old, and was at the head of his profession. In person he was small, with crooked legs, ruddy complexion, a prominent nose, clear blue eyes, and a somewhat Jewish cast of countenance. Nevertheless he was decidedly good-looking, if we can trust Dance's portrait of him and two pencil portraits in the British Museum said to be by Charles Turner [q. v.], the engraver, all of which belong to this time or a year or two later. He was shy and secretive, allowing no one to see him work, and sharp in all dealings where money was concerned. Before he went to stay with Dr. Whitaker, that gentleman was advised that he was a ‘Jew,’ and, taking it literally, treated him as an Israelite, to his great annoyance. Ill-educated and unpolished, very proud and very sensitive, conscious at once of his great talents and his social defects, he was always silent and suspicious, and often rough and surly, except with the few who had won his confidence. Among these were the family of William Frederick Wells, the artist, whose daughter, Mrs. Wheeler, who knew him and loved him for sixty years, has recorded that Turner was the most light-hearted and merry of all the light-hearted merry creatures she ever knew. His want of confidence in his fellow-creatures may have been confirmed by a disappointment in love. It is said that he returned from a long tour to find his letters to his betrothed (the sister of a school friend at Margate) had been intercepted, and that she was about to be married to another; but it is impossible to test the truth of this story, to which no date is assigned.
Turner presented ‘Dolbadern Castle’ to the academy as his diploma work, and removed from Hand Court to 64 Harley Street. Now what Mr. Ruskin calls Turner's ‘period of development’ was over, and with 1800 commenced his ‘first style,’ in which he ‘laboured as a student imitating various old masters.’ In 1800 he exhibited ‘The Fifth Plague of Egypt,’ the first of three scenes of destruction from the Old Testament, the others being ‘The Army of the Medes destroyed in the Desert by a Whirlwind—foretold by Jeremiah, xv. 32–3,’ exhibited in 1801, and by ‘The Tenth Plague of Egypt’ in 1802. In 1801, 1802, and 1803 his address in the academy catalogues is 75 Norton Street, Portland Road, but in 1804 it is again 64 Harley Street. He visited Scotland in 1801. In 1802 he was elected a full member of the academy, and for the first time he appears in the catalogue as Joseph Mallord William Turner. He was called William at home, and his name is printed as W. Turner in previous catalogues, except in 1790, when it is J. W. Turner. In this year (1802) the death of Girtin removed his only serious rival. He is reported to have said, ‘Had Tom Girtin lived, I should have starved;’ and of one of Girtin's ‘yellow’ drawings he said that he would have given one of his little fingers to have made such a one. He owed far more to Girtin than Girtin to him, but between them they did more than any others to develop the art of watercolour in England, by raising topography to a fine art and superseding the old tinted monochromes by drawings in colour which merited the name of paintings (see Redgrave, Introduction to the Catalogue of Watercolours at South Kensington Museum). There seems to have been some estrangement between them for some years before Girtin's death, but Turner went to Girtin's funeral, and expressed an intention of erecting a stone to his memory. But this was done by others.
The exhibition of 1802 showed that Turner's ambitions went far beyond the poetical topography of Girtin. Besides Girtinesque views of Edinburgh and Scottish scenery, he sent two sea-pieces and also two works of pure imagination, ‘The Tenth Plague’ and ‘Jason.’ Turner had beaten ‘Loutherbourg and every other artist all to nothing’ (see Andrew Caldwell's letter to Bishop Percy in Nichols's Illustrations of the Literary History of the Eighteenth Century, viii. 43). In 1802 Turner took his first tour abroad, and in 1803 sent to the academy five pictures or drawings of the Savoy Alps, including the large ‘Festival upon the opening of the Vintage of Macon,’ belonging to the Earl of Ellesmere. He also sent ‘Calais Pier’ and a ‘Holy Family.’ Both of these latter are in the National Gallery, as well as a splendid series of sketches (in very black pencil on tinted paper) of the Alps about Chamouni, Grenoble, and the Grande Chartreuse. From this year to 1812, though he is said to have paid another visit to the continent in 1804, he did not exhibit any foreign subject except the ‘Fall of the Rhine at Schaffhausen’ (1806). It was a period of great rivalry of many masters, living and dead; of the Dutch sea-painters, especially Van de Velde, in such works as the ‘Boats carrying out Anchors, &c.’ (1804), ‘Spithead’ (1809), the famous ‘Shipwreck,’ painted for Sir John Fleming Leicester (afterwards the first Lord de Tabley) [q. v.] in 1805, but not exhibited (all these are now in the National Gallery), and the ‘Fishing Boats in a Squall,’ painted for the Marquis of Stafford, and now in the Ellesmere Gallery; of Claude and Wilson in ‘Narcissus and Echo’ (1804) and ‘Mercury and Herse’ (1811) (lately purchased by Sir Samuel Montagu at the Pender sale for seven thousand guineas), of Poussin in the ‘Garden of the Hesperides’ (British Institution, 1806), and probably of Titian in ‘Venus and Adonis,’ though this work was not exhibited till 1849; of Wilkie in ‘A Country Blacksmith disputing, &c.’ (1807). In 1807 also appeared one of the most celebrated and most individual of his pictures, ‘Sun rising through Vapour,’ now in the National Gallery—the first decided expression on an important scale of his master-passion in art, the love of light and mystery in combination (see Hamerton, Life, pp. 99, 100). It was a period also in which he was much employed by noblemen and gentlemen whose patronage had taken the place of the topographical publishers. There were two views of ‘Tabley, the seat of Sir J. Leicester, bart.,’ in 1809, two of Lowther Castle (Earl of Lonsdale) and one of Petworth (Earl of Egremont) in 1810. It was the period also of the ‘Liber Studiorum,’ the first number of which was published by the artist himself on 20 Jan. 1807. Turner's ‘Liber’ was suggested by the ‘Liber Veritatis’ of Claude, and was partly in rivalry with it, though no fair comparison could be made between the two, as Claude's consisted of slight sketches to identify his pictures by, whereas Turner's was intended to illustrate all classes of landscape composition by very careful engravings in imitation of drawings in complete chiaroscuro. The idea was suggested by W. F. Wells, with its divisions into ‘Pastoral,’ ‘Marine,’ ‘Historical,’ &c. It was published at very irregular intervals from 1807 to 1819. The first plate executed, ‘Goats on a Bridge,’ was in aquatint; all the rest were a combination of etching and mezzotint. In consequence of a quarrel with Frederick Christian Lewis [q. v.], the engraver, it was not published till the ninth number.
Charles Turner [q. v.] engraved the first twenty published plates (there were five plates in each number) and published numbers 2, 3, and 4. Then Turner quarrelled with him, and published the work himself, employing many of the best mezzotint engravers, with several of whom he had differences. These were W. Say, R. Dunkarton, J. C. Easling, T. Hodgetts, W. Annis, G. Clint, H. Dawe, T. Lupton, and S. W. Reynolds. He supervised the execution of every plate himself with the greatest care, and laid the etched lines of most of them. Some of the plates (about twelve) he engraved entirely himself. Fourteen numbers containing seventy-one plates (including the frontispiece) were published. Twenty remained unpublished. The work has quite recently been completed with admirable skill by Mr. Frank Short. Drawings for most of the plates are in the National Gallery, one is in the British Museum, and a few others are in private hands. The series shows, though not exhaustively, the great range of Turner's power, and wants little to make it a complete epitome of landscape design and effect in black and white. His method of publication was bad, and disfigured by practices the honesty of which it is hard to defend. The original price was 15s. a number for prints and 1l. 5s. for proofs, and this was raised in 1810 to one guinea and two guineas respectively. But though he charged a higher price for a proof edition, he issued no number which consisted entirely of proofs. When the plates got worn, as they very soon did (the process of ‘steeling’ the copper not being then known), he would work upon them, sometimes completely changing the effect, without informing the buyers or altering his price. The best excuse is that sometimes he made a ‘new thing’ of the plate, and that a few of the later ‘states’ are considered finer than the first. His whole procedure shows his contempt of the public as ‘a pack of geese’ (see Rawlinson, A Description and a Catalogue of Turner's Liber Studiorum; and Pye and Roget, Notes on Turner's Liber Studiorum).
In 1808 Turner was elected professor of perspective of the Royal Academy. He lectured very badly, but he tried to make up for his deficiencies in utterance by elaborate illustrations. In 1810, besides his exhibited pictures, he painted the ‘Wreck of the Minotaur’ for Lord Yarborough. In 1811 according to Cyrus Redding, in 1813 or 1814 according to Sir Charles Eastlake, he paid his first and only recorded visit to Devonshire. While with Redding he made many excursions and proved a good companion, and even hospitable, giving a picnic ‘in excellent taste.’ It was near Plymouth that he found the subject for the famous ‘Crossing the Brook,’ exhibited in 1815. He also visited relations at Barnstaple and Exeter. During this tour he made many designs for Cooke's ‘Southern Coast’ [see Cooke, George, (1781–1834)], which was commenced in 1814 and continued to 1826 (forty plates by Turner), when it ceased after a quarrel with Cooke about money, little to the credit of the artist.
Among the most important works of these years not already mentioned were the ‘Apollo and Python’ (1811) and ‘Snowstorm: Hannibal and his Army crossing the Alps’ (1812), the effect of which was suggested by a storm at Farnley. The subject was the same as that of a painting by John Robert Cozens, from which Turner said he had learnt more than from any other. It was to the title of this picture in the catalogue he appended the first of many quotations from a supposed manuscript poem of his own called ‘Fallacies of Hope.’ They are perhaps the best lines he ever wrote:
Craft, treachery, and fraud—Salassian force,
Hung on the fainting rear! Then Plunder seiz'd
The victor and the captive—Saguntum's spoil
Alike became their prey; still the chief advanc'd,
Look'd on the sun with hope;—low, broad, and wan,
While the fierce archer of the downward year
Stains Italy's blanch'd barrier with storms.
In vain each pass, ensanguin'd deep with dead,
Or rocky fragments, wide destruction roll'd.
Still on Campania's fertile plains—he thought,
But the loud breeze sob'd, ‘Capua's joys beware.’
In 1815, besides the ‘Crossing the Brook’ and several other fine works, he exhibited ‘Dido building Carthage, or the Rise of the Carthaginian Empire,’ the best of the Carthage series. This picture was a great favourite with Turner, and he once said he would be buried in it. Much of 1816 was spent in the north; he was at Richmond (Yorkshire) in July, probably engaged on those beautiful drawings which he made to illustrate Whitaker's ‘History of Richmondshire’ (published in 1823). He was at Farnley in September. In 1817 he was at Raby (Earl of Darlington's). In 1818 he visited Scotland to illustrate Scott's ‘Provincial Antiquities.’ In 1819 he seems to have paid two visits to the continent, one a short one to the Rhine, whence he brought to Farnley a series of fifty-one sketches in transparent and body colour on tinted paper, executed, it is said, in about a fortnight. They were preserved at Farnley till recently, and were exhibited at the winter exhibition of the Royal Academy in 1889. He afterwards, at the suggestion of Sir Thomas Lawrence, went to Italy for the first time.
From this time dated what Mr. Ruskin calls his second style (1820–1835), when he imitated no one, but aimed at beautiful ideal compositions.
The effect of this visit to Italy was seen in the much greater lightness and brilliancy of his colour. He exhibited little for some years, but he executed the lovely drawings for the ‘Rivers of England’ (published in 1824) and the ‘Ports’ or ‘Harbours of England,’ and some illustrations of Byron (published in 1825); and in 1823 appeared the first of those glorious dreams of Italy which are especially associated with his name—the ‘Bay of Baiæ, with Apollo and the Sibyl’ (now in the National Gallery).
From 1808 to 1826 he had a country residence, first at West End, Upper Mall, Hammersmith, and from 1814 at Solus, or Sandycombe Lodge, which he built on land purchased in 1807 on the road from Twickenham to Isleworth. Both this house and 47 Queen Anne Street West (now 23 Queen Anne Street), where he removed from Harley Street in 1812, were built from his own designs. At Hammersmith and Twickenham he indulged in his favourite sport of fishing, and had his own boat and gig. While at Twickenham, if not before, he became intimate with Henry Scott Trimmer, vicar of Heston, who lived about four miles from Sandycombe Lodge. Trimmer was very fond of art, and had some skill in painting. He tried to teach Turner Latin or Greek, or both, but without success. Turner was on intimate terms with the family, very kind to the children, and wished to marry Trimmer's sister, but was too shy to propose. No doubt he loved the Thames, but his country residences had little effect on his art, and the only picture of this time which was suggested by its locality was the ‘Richmond Hill’ of 1819. He really spent little time at Sandycombe, and it was partly on account of the frequency of his absences that he sold it in 1826. Another reason was that his father was always catching cold from working in the garden. His own health was not good at this time; he was ‘as thin as a hurdle.’ He spent the winter in Queen Anne Street, but the winter was a severe one, and he wrote to his friend Holworthy, ‘Poor Daddy never felt cold so much. I began to think of being truly alone in the world, but I believe the bitterness is past, but has very much shaken, and I am not better for wear.’
For some years after 1825 his exhibited pictures were of little importance. According to Mr. Ruskin they showed a very serious disturbance in temper, but the ‘Cologne’ of 1826 deserves mention not only for its merit, but because it was the occasion of an act of self-denial on Turner's part. It was hung between two portraits by Sir Thomas Lawrence, which it killed by its brilliant colour. Turner dimmed its glory with a wash of lampblack. ‘It will all wash off,’ he said, ‘and Lawrence was so unhappy.’
In 1827 was published the first part of the largest series of prints after Turner's drawings—the ‘England and Wales.’ They were engraved by a band of engravers who, with Turner's assistance, brought the art of engraving landscapes in line to a perfection never before attained. Among them were Goodall, Wallis, Willmore, W. Miller, Brandard, Radcliffe, Jeavons, and W. R. Smith. The work consisted of about a hundred plates published between 1827 and 1838. The drawings were unequal in merit, but generally wonderful in colour and atmospheric effect. They were distinctly ‘Turners,’ poetical compositions of great beauty suggested by the place, and idealising its local characteristics, but paying little regard to literal accuracy. The best of them are greatly prized by collectors, and realise large sums.
In 1828 Turner exhibited his last picture of Carthage, ‘Dido directing the Equipment of the Fleet, or the Morning of the Carthaginian Empire,’ painted for Mr. Broadhurst, and now in the National Gallery. In the autumn he paid his first visit to the south of France, the heat of which ‘almost knocked him up, particularly at Nismes and Avignon.’ He restored himself by bathing at Marseilles, and proceeded along the Riviera to Nice, Genoa, Spezzia, Carrara, and Siena. He was in Rome in October, November, and December, staying at 12 Piazza Mignanelli, whence he sent lively letters to his friends Chantrey and Jones and Sir Thomas Lawrence, whom he thanked for giving his vote to Charles Turner at the academy election. Here he painted several pictures, including one for Lord Egremont, perhaps ‘Jessica,’ and another ‘View of Orvieto’ (exhibited in 1830, and now in the National Gallery), ‘to stop the gabbling’ of those who said he would not show his work. This he exhibited with a piece of rope railed round the picture instead of a frame. An amusing picture of him at this time is given in a letter from one who met him accidentally in his travels and did not know him. He described Turner as ‘a good-tempered, funny little elderly gentleman,’ continuously sketching at the window, and angry at the conductor for not waiting while he took a sketch of a sunrise at Macerata. ‘“D——the fellow!” he said, “he has no feeling.” He speaks only a few words of Italian, about as much of French, which languages he jumbles together most amusingly.’ This tour was illustrated in the next academy by ‘The Banks of the Loire,’ his first picture of the south of France, and ‘Messieurs les Voyageurs on their Return from Italy (par la diligence) in a Snowdrift upon Mount Tarra on 22 Jan. 1829.’ The same exhibition contained the magnificent ‘Ulysses deriding Polyphemus,’ sometimes regarded as his masterpiece, and still retaining much of its ancient glory. This and ‘The Loretto Necklace’ of the same year are in the National Gallery.
He sustained a very deep loss by the death of his father on 29 Sept. 1829 (not 1830, as stated on his gravestone). Turner is said to have never been the same man afterwards. They were greatly attached to each other, and ever since his ‘dad’ had given up business he had been his son's willing servant, opening his ‘gallery’ in Queen Anne Street, stretching his canvases, working in his garden, and in all ways doing what he could to save his son's money. Turner must also have felt the death of Sir Thomas Lawrence in the following January. He made a sketch of the funeral from memory, which was exhibited the same year, and is now in the National Gallery. In a characteristic letter to Jones he says, ‘Alas! only two short months Sir Thomas followed the coffin of Dawe to the same place. We then were his pall-bearers. Who will do the like for me, or when, God only knows how soon! However, it is something to feel that gifted talent can be acknowledged by the many who yesterday waded up to their knees in snow and muck to see the funeral pomp swelled up by carriages of the great without the persons themselves.’
It was in 1830 that his lovely illustrations to Rogers's ‘Italy’ were published, and next year Turner made his will, of which Samuel Rogers was one of the executors. After leaving a few small legacies to his next-of-kin (including his illegitimate children by his first housekeeper, who since 1801 had been superseded by her niece, Hannah Danby, who lived with him till his death), he devoted the bulk of his money to found an institution for decayed artists, to be called ‘Turner's Gift,’ and left two paintings only to the nation, the ‘Building of Carthage’ and ‘the Sun rising through Mist,’ and these were so left on condition that they should be hung, as they are to this day, next to the great Bouillon Claudes in the National Gallery. The ‘Carthage’ he had never sold; the ‘Sun rising through Mist’ he had bought back at Lord de Tabley's sale in 1827 for 519l. 15s. This year (1831) he visited Scotland again to illustrate ‘Scott's Poems,’ and was nearly lost in the Isle of Skye, near Coruisk. At this time he appears to have been cogitating another country residence, for he was building in the neighbourhood of Rickmansworth. In 1831 and 1832 he exhibited two more of his splendid dreams of Italy, ‘Caligula's Palace and Bridge’ and ‘Childe Harold's Pilgrimage,’ both in the National Gallery, and, in spite of lamentable decay, still beautiful. It is probable that in these years he paid one or more visits to Holland, and he was certainly greatly interested at this time in both Holland and the sea, for from 1831 to 1833 he exhibited many sea-pieces, several of which were Dutch in subject. To about this time belong his visits to France with Leitch Ritchie, who wrote the letterpress to the ‘Rivers of France, or Annual Tour,’ the first volume of which was published in 1833. They travelled, however, little together, their tastes being uncongenial. The original studies for the ‘Rivers of France’ (in body colour, on grey tinted paper) and the drawings made therefrom are among the most characteristic and perfect of his works. Careless, as usual, as to exact topographical accuracy, they express the essential spirit and character of the localities, and the atmospheric effects peculiar to them. Most of them are in the National Gallery. In 1834 a great many other illustrations were published, including the works of Lord Byron, Rogers's poems, Scott's prose and poetical works (for Cadell), and illustrations to Scott for Tilt, besides the second volume of the ‘Annual Tour’ and two illustrations to the ‘Keepsake.’ But his work for the book engravers was drawing to its close. In 1835 appeared Macrone's edition of Milton, in 1837 Moxon's ‘Campbell;’ in 1838 the series of ‘England and Wales’ stopped, and in 1840 appeared an edition of Tom Moore's ‘Epicurean,’ with four illustrations after Turner. After this the engravings after Turner were chiefly or entirely large single plates, which, despite their elaborate beauty, were unprofitable to the publishers.
Turner's first visit to Venice must have been about 1832, and during 1833–46 the profound impression made upon his mind and art by the ‘City of the Sea’ was very visible in his contributions to the academy. In every year except 1838 and 1839 he sent one or more Venetian pictures, in which his genius shows itself perhaps with more perfect freedom than in any others of his compositions. From the first they were brilliant in colour and of extreme subtlety in execution—visions of an enchanted city of the imagination; and if, as time went on, they became more and more dreamlike and unsubstantial, they retained to the last a magic and mystery of sunlight and air which no other artist has approached. The Venetian inspiration is but imperfectly represented by oil pictures in the National Gallery; but Mr. Vernon left to it one of Turner's earliest Venetian pictures, ‘Bridge of Sighs—Ducal Palace and Custom House—Canaletti painting’ (exhibited 1833), and Turner left it several of his later oil sketches, including ‘the Sun of Venice going to Sea’ and ‘St. Benedetto looking towards Fusina’ (both exhibited in 1843). The latter was ‘realised’ a year later in the ‘Approach to Venice,’ now belonging to Mrs. Moir, and perhaps the most beautiful of all his Venetian pictures. But the collection of Turner's watercolours in the National Gallery is rich in sketches of Venice. The Venetian inspiration, though paramount during these years, by no means exhausted his energies, which were employed over almost the whole field of his knowledge and experience, and produced some of his most beautiful work of all kinds. From 1833, the year of his first Venetian picture, to 1840, he exhibited the following pictures, all of the highest class; of poetical landscape: ‘The Golden Bough’ (1834); ‘Mercury and Argus’ (1836); ‘Modern Italy’ and ‘Ancient Italy’ (1838); of scenes on the coast of England: ‘Wreckers—Coast of Northumberland’ (1834); ‘St. Michael's Mount, Cornwall’ (1834, Sheepshanks Collection); ‘Line Fishing off Hastings’ (1835, Sheepshanks Collection); of the Rhine: ‘Ehrenbreitstein’ (1835); of Switzerland; ‘Snowstorm, Avalanche, and Inundation’ (Val d'Aoste, Piedmont), 1837. More difficult to class are two or more pictures of the burning of the houses of parliament, exhibited at the Royal Academy and British Institution in 1835 and 1836, and, what is probably the best known and most generally admired of all his works, ‘The Fighting Téméraire tugged to her last Berth’ (exhibited in 1839), the last picture (according to Mr. Ruskin) painted with his entire and perfect power.
Personal records of this time are, as usual, very scanty. In 1833 we find him at the sale of his old patron, Dr. Monro, buying up about ninety of his early drawings at a cost of about 80l. In 1834 he met Sir David Brewster at a dinner given at Edinburgh to Lord Grey, and on 16 Oct. of the same year he witnessed the fire at the houses of parliament. In 1836 Turner took a tour in France and Italy with his friend Mr. Munro of Novar. In 1838, on the discontinuance of the ‘England and Wales’ series, he bought up the whole stock with the copperplates for 3,000l., in order to prevent his plates being ‘worn to shadows;’ and it was in the August of this year that he and Stanfield saw the Téméraire being tugged up the Thames, and Stanfield suggested it to Turner as the subject of a picture. It was during this period that Turner's pictures, on account of their apparently careless handling and extravagant colour, began to excite ridicule. ‘Blackwood,’ which only a few years before had called him the greatest landscape artist since Claude, abused his Venetian pictures in 1835, stigmatised the ‘Grand Canal’ in 1837 as a bold attempt to insult the public taste, and in 1839 excepted the ‘Téméraire’ alone from a general condemnation. Nevertheless we have it on the authority of John Pye (1782–1874) [q. v.] that from 1840 to 1851 Turner's reputation and in proportion the price of the ‘Liber Studiorum’ rose. Possibly the fame of the ‘Téméraire’ may have done something towards this, but there can be no doubt that the enormous increase in Turner's reputation during the last years of his life was greatly due to Mr. Ruskin and ‘Modern Painters,’ the first volume of which appeared in 1843. In 1840 Mr. Ruskin, then just twenty-one, but already for several years an enthusiastic admirer of the artist, was introduced to Turner by Mr. Griffith. Having done with print-sellers who used to purchase all his drawings, Turner now employed Mr. Griffith as his agent for the sale of his works. The famous picture of ‘The Slave Ship,’ so eloquently described in ‘Modern Painters’ (vol. i.), and long in the possession of Mr. Ruskin, was exhibited in 1840.
Although from this time may be noted some failure of Turner in both health and power, he went during the next five years to produce some of the most characteristic and inimitable of his works. Among those most remarkable for their simplicity, their grandeur and splendour of colour, are the drawings executed in 1842—three from sketches made by him in Switzerland in 1840, 1841, and perhaps 1843 (see notes by Mr. Ruskin on his drawings by Turner, exhibited at the Fine Arts Society in 1878). Of one of the drawings, ‘The Splugen,’ Mr. Ruskin says that it is ‘the best Swiss landscape yet painted by man.’ Another (‘Lucerne’) Mr. Ruskin sold for 1,000l., and probably it would fetch a great deal more now.
To these five years belong such exquisite Venetian visions as the ‘Giudecca, &c.’ (1841), and ‘Depositing of John Bellini's three Pictures in La Chiesa Redentore’ (1841), ‘The Campo Santo’ (1842) (now belonging to Mr. Keiller), and ‘The Approach to Venice’ (1843), besides a few works of singular interest and power, like ‘Peace—Burial at Sea’ (1842), ‘The Snowstorm’ of the same year, and ‘Rain, Steam, and Speed’ (1844), all in the National Gallery. ‘Peace—Burial at Sea,’ is an imaginative sketch of Wilkie's funeral by night off Gibraltar, with rockets in the distance, a glare of light on the sponson, and sails hanging black against the cold sky. When Stanfield complained of the blackness of the sails, Turner answered, ‘If I could find anything blacker than black, I'd use it.’ The ‘Snowstorm’ is an impression of a storm while he was on board the Ariel, a Margate steamer, when he had himself lashed to the mast to observe it, remaining so for four hours. ‘I did not expect to escape,’ he said to Charles Kingsley, ‘but I felt bound to record it if I did.’ It was described as ‘soapsuds and whitewash,’ to the artist's great annoyance. ‘Soapsuds and whitewash!’ he said to Mr. Ruskin. ‘What would they have? I wonder what they think the sea's like. I wish they had been in it.’ ‘Rain, Steam, and Speed’ represents an extensive landscape seen through a mist of rain. A thousand veiled objects gradually reveal themselves as you look at it. It well realises his saying that ‘indistinctness was his forte.’ Some others of his later works were more open to ridicule—vain endeavours to represent vague thoughts in colour language, such as ‘War—the Exile [Napoleon at St. Helena] and the Rock Limpet,’ ‘Shade and Darkness—the Evening of the Deluge,’ and ‘Light and Colour (Goethe's Theory)—The Morning after the Deluge—Moses writing the Book of Genesis.’ These pictures and the quotations from that melancholy manuscript, ‘The Fallacies of Hope,’ with which their titles were accompanied in the catalogues, afforded easy sport to the young wits of ‘Punch’ and other periodicals (a collection of some of the cleverest of their jeux d'esprit will be found in Thornbury's Life, chap. xxxvi). Turner was very sensitive to such attacks. They were to him, says Mr. Ruskin, ‘not merely contemptible in their ignorance, but amazing in their ingratitude. “A man may be weak in his age,” he said to me once at the time when he felt he was dying, “but you should not tell him so”.’
In addition to his Venetian pictures of 1841, he exhibited ‘Rosenau, the seat of H.R.H. Prince Albert of Coburg,’ intended perhaps as a compliment to the queen, and in 1843 a picture painted in honour of the king of Bavaria, called ‘The Opening of the Walhalla, 1842.’ He sent this picture, which was very inaccurate and probably painted from an engraving, as a present to the king, who returned it to the artist, thus affording another instance of ‘the fallacies of hope.’ It is now in the National Gallery. In 1841 (the year when both Wilkie and his old friend Chantrey died) he complained that his health was ‘on the wain.’ His sight was now beginning to fail, and in 1842 he was very ill and living by rule. In 1843 he paid his last recorded visits to the continent and to Margate. The year 1845 is assigned by Mr. Ruskin as the end of his third period, when mind and sight began to fail; but the pictures of the few remaining years of his life, if incoherent, were often of great beauty in colour, and his mind was still active. He began a new class of subjects, ‘Whalers,’ of which he sent several pictures to the academy, and he took great interest in the new art of photography, then in the daguerreotype stage. He paid Mayall a visit in 1847, and was photographed several times; but he concealed his identity, calling himself a master of chancery, and the plates were not preserved.
For some time before his death his frequent absence from Queen Anne Street led his friends to suspect that he had another home. He had taken a house at Chelsea by the side of the river near Cremorne Gardens, where he lived with Sophia Caroline Booth, his ‘good old Margate landlady’ Mr. Ruskin calls her. He adopted her name, and both at Chelsea and at Margate he was known as Mr. Booth, Admiral Booth, or ‘Puggy’ Booth. Many of his friends tried in vain to discover his retreat, but were always foiled with great ingenuity by Turner. He had no picture at the academy in 1851, but he came to the private view, and went to see his old friend David Roberts. After this he disappeared again. At length Hannah Danby, his old housekeeper in Queen Anne Street, obtained a clue to his whereabouts by a letter left in an old coat, and he was found the day before his death, which took place at Chelsea on 19 Dec. 1851. In accordance with his own request he was buried in St. Paul's Cathedral, and his funeral was largely attended by his fellow artists and others.
Turner's will (with four codicils) was proved on 6 Sept. 1852, and the property was sworn under 140,000l. The testamentary papers were so confused that litigation lasted for four years, and resulted in a compromise to the following effect: (1) the real estate to go to the heir-at-law; (2) the pictures, &c., to go to the National Gallery; (3) 1,000l. for the erection of a monument in St. Paul's Cathedral; (4) 20,000l. to the Royal Academy, free of legacy duty; (5) remainder to be divided among next-of-kin. By this decision one of the main objects of the will, the foundation of a charity, to be called ‘Turner's Gift,’ for ‘male decayed artists living in England, and of English parents only and lawful issue,’ was entirely frustrated, but the nation became possessor of 362 pictures, 135 finished watercolour drawings, 1,757 studies in colour, and sketches innumerable. Over nineteen thousand pieces of paper, more or less drawn upon, and in every state of neglect and decay, were taken from his dirty and dilapidated house in Queen Anne Street to the National Gallery, where they were put in order and protected from further damage by Mr. Ruskin. The National Gallery also possesses palettes and other memorials of the great painter, besides a portrait of him painted by himself in 1802, when he was twenty-seven. A beautiful engraving of this painting forms the frontispiece to Wornum's ‘Turner Gallery.’ Mr Ruskin possesses another portrait. A third was painted by Linnell from memoranda taken by stealth, and there is also a full-length outline sketch, in which Turner is stirring a cup of coffee, by Count d'Orsay. Thornbury's ‘Life’ contains sketches after the portrait by Dance, and from the statue by MacDowell in St. Paul's.
Turner lived a life of continued prosperity and almost continued fame from his boyhood to his death. In later life he had to endure some ridicule, and his works were not (and he felt that they were not) fully understood or prized for the most transcendent of their qualities, but he lived to see the publication of the first two volumes of ‘Modern Painters,’ in which he was praised as no other artist was ever praised before. Not only in ‘Modern Painters,’ but in many other books, Mr. Ruskin has described and analysed the great painter's powers, both mental and artistic, with a sympathy, an enthusiasm, and a power of language which have made their names inseparable. Among Turner's strongest passions were his love of fame and his love of money, but the strongest of all was his love of nature. He studied her every day, early and late, throughout his life. On his tours, on foot, on sea, or in the coach, in England, Scotland, Switzerland, France, Germany, Holland, and Italy, he was constantly at work, noting as he went, in swift pencil outline, all he thought worthy of memory; and his memory was equal to his industry. No mind was ever so stored with impressions of nature or was so able to weave them at will into visions of beauty.
A life so absorbed had little to spare for the ordinary claims of society, and he was by nature and bringing up shy and suspicious, but nothing conduced more to his mental and moral solitude than his incapacity to express himself in words. He had a mind of unusual range and feelings of unusual depth, but he could scarcely write a sentence of plain English.
Other artists, like Claude, Cuyp, Crome, and Constable, have painted certain familiar aspects of nature with more fidelity and completeness, but no landscape-painter has equalled Turner in range, in imagination, or sublimity. His technique in oils was unsound, but in watercolours it was supreme; and in oils his dexterity was such that he obtained unrivalled effects in that medium. It is impossible to estimate his power without study of his watercolour drawings, especially as so many of his finest works in oil are mere wrecks of what they were. Far from decreasing since his death, his fame is still extending in England and abroad, and the prices given for his works increase every year. At the sale of Mr. Elhanan Bicknell's collection in 1863, ten pictures, for which he had paid 3,750l. 11s. 9d., realised 17,261l. 10s.; but since then four only of these very pictures —‘Helvoetsluys’ (1832), ‘Antwerp’ (1833), ‘Wreckers’ (1834), and ‘Venice, the Giudecca,’ &c. (1841)—have sold at Christie's for 28,665l. The following are the ‘top’ prices fetched by Turner's oil pictures: ‘Grand Canal,’ Mendel sale, 7,000 guineas, 1875; ‘Antwerp,’ Graham sale, 6,500 guineas, 1889; ‘Sheerness,’ Wells sale, 7,100 guineas, 1890; ‘Walton Bridges,’ Essex sale, 7,100 guineas, 1891; ‘Helvoetsluys,’ Price sale, 6,400 guineas, 1895; and at the Pender sale in 1897, ‘Venice, the Giudecca,’ &c. (1841), 6,800 guineas; ‘Depositing John Bellini's three Pictures in La Chiesa Redentore, Venice’ (1841), 7,000 guineas; ‘Mercury and Herse’ (1811), 7,500 guineas, and ‘Wreckers’ (1834), 7,600 guineas.
Turner's private life was sordid and sensual, but he was a good son, a staunch friend, and grateful to those who had been kind to him. He was miserly by habit, but he could be generous at times. His heart was very tender; he never spoke ill of any one; he was kind to children, and would not distrain on his tenants. Though rough in manners to the outside world, he was genial and convivial with his brother artists, and full of a shrewd and merry humour. He intended to devote the whole of his fortune for the benefit of artists and art, and he conferred an inestimable benefit on the nation by the bequest of his pictures and drawings. Though in his later years he was offered a large sum for pictures, in order that they might be preserved to the nation, he refused to take the money because he had ‘willed’ them to the nation himself. He was for some time greatly interested in the Artists' Benevolent Fund, and the students of the Royal Academy owe him a debt of gratitude for the institution of the ‘Turner’ medal for landscape.
Besides the works by Turner at the National Gallery, the South Kensington Museum, and the British Museum, others are to be found in all the principal art galleries and museums throughout the country. Fine collections of Turner drawings have been given by Mr. Ruskin to the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, and the Whitworth Institute at Manchester contains another collection (principally consisting of his earlier works), presented by Mr J. E. Taylor and others.[Thornbury's Life (founded on letters and papers), London, 2 vols. 1862; Hamerton's Life, with nine illustrations, 1879; Monkhouse's Turner in Great Artists Series, 1882; Alaric Watts's Memoir in Liber Fluviorum, 1853; Peter Cunningham's Memoir in John Burnet's Turner and his Works, 1852–9; Wornum's Turner Gallery, 1859; Thomas Miller's Turner and Girtin's Picturesque Views, 1852; Art Journal, January 1852, January 1857; Athenæum, December 1851, January 1852; Ruskin's Modern Painters, Preterita &c.; Daye's Professional Sketches of Modern Artists; Redgraves' Century; Redgrave's Dict.; Rawlinson's Liber Studiorum; Leslie's Life of Constable; Leslie's Autobiography; Leslie's Handbook for Young Painters; Encyclopædia Britannica; Pye and Roget's Notes on Turner's Liber Studiorum; Roget's ‘Old Watercolour’ Society; Pye's Patronage of British Art; Cat. of Burlington Fine Art Soc.—Watercolours 1871, Liber Studiorum 1872, Architectural Subjects 1884; Cyrus Redding's Autobiography; Cat. of Manchester Whitworth Institute; Monkhouse's Early English Painters in Watercolour; unpublished correspondence.]