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Joseph Mallord William Turner

Born: London, 23 April 1775
Died: Chelsea, 19 December 1851
Nationality: English

son of William Turner, a barber and wigmaker


with architectural draughtsman Thomas Malton and architect Thomas Hardwick; Royal Academy (beginning 1779)


1791 –assistant scene-painter at Pantheon opera house, London

1796 – First Royal Academy (RA) exhibition: Fishermen at Sea

1799 – elected RA associate

1802 – becomes full member of the RA with acceptance of Dolbadam Castle, North Wales (RA, London)

1804 – opens gallery in Harley Street

1807 – elected Professor of Perspective at RA

1811 –begins lecturing at RA

1810s-20s – makes topographical illustrations:  Picturesque Views on the Southern Coast of England (1814-26), History of Richmondshire (1819-23), Rivers of England and Wales (1832-1827)

1820s-30s – Turner travels throughout continental Europe sketching for a series of engravings: “Rivers of Europe”

1837 – resigns as Professor of Perspective at RA

1843 – John Ruskin’s Modern Painters is published; contains a long defense of Turner’s work

1856 – following legal proceedings over Turner’s will and bequest, all original works remaining in his possession are given to The National Gallery, London


Switzerland and France (1802); Italy (1819, 1828-29); frequent tours of Continental Europe

Commissions from: 

Richard Colt Hoare; William Anne Capel, 4th Earl of Essex; Edward Lascelles, 1st Earl of Harewood; Francis Egerton, 3rd Duke of Bridgewater; George Wyndham, 3rd Earl of Egremont; Walter Ramsden Fawkes

Important Artworks: 

Fishermen at Sea, 1796 (Tate, London)

Dido Building Carthage or the Rise of the Carthaginian Empire, 1815 (National Gallery, London)

Fighting Temeraire Tugged to her Last Berth to Be Broken Up, 1838, 1839 (National Gallery, London)



Turner criticized Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665) in an 1811 lecture:

“To Nicolas Poussin let me direct your observation. His love for the antique prompted his exertion and that love for the antique emanates through all his works. It clothes his figures, rears his buildings, disposes of his materials, arranges the whole of his picture and landscape and gives, whether from indifference or strength of his ground, a color that often removes his works from truth.”

First published in Jerrold Ziff, “’Backgrounds, Introductions of Architecture and Landscape,’ a Lecture by J.M.W. Turner, “ Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, vol. 26 (1963), 133 ff; cited in Lorenz Eitner, Neoclassicism and Romanticism 1750-1850, vol. 2: Neoclassicism and Romanticism (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1970), 94.

Web resources

smarthistory: Turner, Rain, Steam, and Speed – The Great Western Railway  

Metmuseum: Joseph Turner