In this second volume in the Ackroyd’s Brief Lives series, bestselling author Peter Ackroyd brings us a man of humble beginnings, crude manners, and prodigious talents, the nineteenth-century painter J. M. W. Turner.
Joseph Mallord William Turner was born in London in 1775. His father was a barber, and his mother came from a family of London butchers. “His speech was recognizably that of a Cockney, and his language was the language of the streets.” As his finest paintings show, his language was also the language of light. Turner’s landscapes—extraordinary studies in light, colour, and texture—caused an uproar during his lifetime and earned him a place as one of the greatest artists in history.
Displaying his artistic abilities as a young child, Turner entered the Royal Academy of Arts when he was just fourteen years old. A year later his paintings appeared in an important public exhibition, and he rapidly achieved prominence, becoming a Royal Academician in 1802 and Professor of Perspective at the Academy from 1807–1837. His private life, however, was less orderly. Never married, he spent much time living in taverns, where he was well known for his truculence and his stinginess with money.
Peter Ackroyd deftly follows Turner’s first loves of architecture, engraving, and watercolours, and the country houses, cathedrals, and landscapes of England. While his passion for Italy led him to oil painting, Turner’s love for London remained central to his heart and soul, and it was within sight of his beloved Thames that he died in 1851. His dying words were: “The sun is God.”
Also available in ACKROYD’S BRIEF LIVES
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|Title of eBook: J.M.W. Turner|
|Release Date: 12-18-2007|
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|Publisher: Doubleday Publishing|
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Joseph Mallord William Turner was a child of London. His father owned a barber's shop in Maiden Lane, off Covent Garden, having migrated to the city from a small town in Devon. His mother came from a line of London butchers. Turner himself appeared to all who knew him to be a quintessential citizen--short and stocky, energetic and pugnacious. His speech was recognizably that of a Cockney, and his language was the language of the streets.
He had another direct inheritance. His father was short, also, and his famous son was said to resemble him. According to a family friend William Turner was "spare and muscular, with small blue eyes, parrot nose, projecting chin, fresh complexion." His son boasted, if that is the word, the same nose and chin. The friend added that William Turner "was more cheerful than his son, and had always a smile on his face." His happy disposition no doubt assisted in the success of his barber's shop, where the most important duty was to please the customer, and in any case he seems to have been a proficient businessman. He passed on his economical habits to his son. "Dad never praised me," Turner once said, "except for saving a shilling." It was a lesson he recalled for the rest of his life.
Mary Turner was a considerably more difficult character. She was prone to fits of violent temper, and in the end her rages became so uncontrollable that she was eventually consigned to an asylum. A lost portrait of her suggested "a strong likeness to Turner about the nose and eyes . . . she stands erect, and looks masculine, not to say fierce." Turner seems to have inherited something of his mother's tem...