Turner – the man


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The forefather of impressionism

Considered the forefather of impressionism, Joseph Mallord William Turner was born in 1775 in London. He was a prolific painter and first exhibited his work at the Royal Academy at the age of just 15, when one of his watercolours was accepted for the 1790 Summer Exhibition.  His first oil painting followed in 1796, and thereafter he exhibited at the Academy almost every year; his final exhibit was in 1850, the year before his death.

Sometimes controversial and increasingly eccentric as he grew older, Turner must have been an interesting spectacle.  He was very short, always wore a black tailcoat and a top hat, and had rather a large nose. The children near his house in London called him 'Old Blackbirdy.' Turner was almost as enthusiastic about fishing as he was painting and he was reputed to have an umbrella that converted into a fishing rod.

He died in the house of his mistress Sophia Booth in London on 19 December 1851. His final words are reported to have been "the sun is God."

You can find out more about Turner from The Turner Society

Yorkshire - the county the 'painter of light' loved to visit

Turner's first visit to Yorkshire was in 1797, when he visited Harewood House, home of the Lascelles family.  His association with the flamboyant Edward Lascelles was to last 10 years.  Edward had an interest in art, books and opera. He had already bought paintings from young and up-and-coming artists with a £300 gift from his father, Lord Harewood. He invited Turner, aged 22, to visit Harewood and paint six watercolours of the House and Castle. Most of these paintings remain in the Lascelles family, who still reside at Harewood.

Turner returned to Yorkshire fairly frequently during his life. As well as annual visits to his friend and patron, Walter Fawkes, of Farnley Hall, near Otley, the variety of Yorkshire's landscape attracted him to make four grand tours, each of which lasted a few months. Turner travelled round on horseback with his sketchbooks and made over 1,000 sketches of Yorkshire, from which he developed and painted over 100 watercolours of the landscape.

Turner's second grand tour in 1816 lasted two months over the summer during which he made over 400 sketches of the landscape and celebrated castles and country houses as part of the illustrations for the book 'A General History of the County of York' by Thomas Dunham Whitaker. This was Turner's largest commission yet; he was paid the considerable sum of 3,000 guineas for his work.

From castles and abbeys, to the rolling hills and dales, to the rugged coast, Turner was inspired by Yorkshire's contrasting landscape that offered so much to him as an artist. Take a step back in time and trace Turner's locations on the Turner Trails through Yorkshire.

There are also number of galleries in Yorkshire where you can see Turner's original paintings. Find out more about current exhibitions and permanent displays of Turner's work.


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