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Joseph Turner Artist Biography

Joseph Turner was both a successful and controversial artist, whose style can be seen as laying the foundations for the development of modern art from the Impressionists onwards. He was known as 'the painter of light', because of his increasing interest in brilliant colors as the main constituent in his land and seascapes.

Joseph Turner was born in 1775 in Maiden Lane, off Covent Garden in London. Joseph Turner showed talent early on and by the age of 13 his father, realizing his son was a potentially lucrative asset, apprenticed him to Thomas Malton, a watercolorist. After a year, Joseph Turner enrolled at the Royal Academy to study painting.

By 1793, with the help of his father, Joseph Turner had his own studio. His early work consisted of precise drawings of landscapes, churches and country houses, while his main income came from work as a copyist.

Joseph Turner earned a steady income through a variety of artistic endeavors, including selling designs to engravers, coloring sketches and providing private lessons. Among the artists, were Thomas Gainsborough, Henry Fuseli, Philippe Jacques de Loutherbourg, Michael Angelo Rooker and Richard Wilson.

By 1794, with his friend Thomas Girtin, Joseph Turner attended the evening ‘academy’ hosted by a specialist in mental illness - Dr Thomas Monro who commissioned Joseph Turner to produce a series of watercolors taken from J.R. Cozen's travel sketches. In the resulting pictures, Joseph Turner shifted from the exact reproductions of a scene to more intuitive depictions. Dr Thomas Monro was a significant influence on Turner's style.

Three years later, his first oil painting 'Bridgewater Sea Piece' (1797) was exhibited at the Royal Academy, and in the same year he completed his acclaimed paint 'Norham Castle'.

In 1802, Joseph Turner began traveling through Europe extensively and was particularly inspired by his visits to Venice. Venetian scenes formed the subject matter of many hundreds of Turner's works. His initial efforts reflected his training as a topographic draftsman and resulted in realistic depictions of landscapes, but over the years he developed his own style. Known as the “Painter of Light,” he created scenes of luminous imagery using brilliant colors. His works - watercolors, oil paintings and engravings - are now regarded as a predecessor to Impressionism. 

In 1807, Joseph Turner accepted a position as professor of perspective at the Royal Academy, where he lectured until 1828. He grew increasingly eccentric and secretive, avoiding contact with virtually everyone except for his father, and was embittered when Queen Victoria passed him over for knighthood. Joseph Turner continued to hold exhibitions but begrudgingly sold his paintings, the loss of each one catapulting him into a prolonged state of dejection

In the 1830's, Joseph Turner's work became freer with intricate detail being replaced by a more dramatic use of colors and lighting for example in 'Snowstorm: Steamboat off a Harbour's Mouth' (1842).

Joseph Turner achieved a great success during his lifetime, including becoming the youngest ever Associate of the Royal Academy at the age of 24. He produced close to 20,000 works during his career many of which today are regarded as masterpieces.

The artist died on December 19, 1851, Chelsea, London, England. His will allocated generous sums to programs to support what he called "decaying artists," although relatives successfully contested the funding of those programs through litigation. Joseph Turner also bequeathed a large collection of paintings to his country, and at his request he was buried in St. Paul's Cathedral in London.

More art prints from Joseph Turner

The Burning of the Houses of Parliment, 1834 by Joseph Turner
Dunwich, Suffolk By Joseph Turner
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