Monday, February 9, 2015

Turner, Joseph Mallord William

Shipwreck of the Minotaur
circa 1810
oil on canvas
size unknown
Museu Calouste Gulbenkian, Lisbon, Portugal

The Minotaur was a 74-gun third-rate ship of the line of the Royal Navy, launched in 1793 at Woolwich. She was named after the mythological bull-headed monster of Crete. She fought in three major battles - Nile, Trafalgar, and Copenhagen (1807) - before she was wrecked, with heavy loss of life, in 1810.

Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) is perhaps the best-loved English Romantic artist. He became known as 'the painter of light', because of his increasing interest in brilliant colours as the main constituent in his landscapes and seascapes. His works include water colours, oils and engravings. Unlike many artists of his era, he was successful throughout his career. He left a large fortune that he hoped would be used to support what he called "decaying artists." His collection of paintings was bequeathed to his country. At his request he was buried in St. Paul's Cathedral. His work is regarded as a Romantic preface to Impressionism.

He was born near Covent Garden in London. His father was a barber, his mother died when he was very young and he received little schooling. His father taught him how to read, but this was the extent of his education except for the study of art. By the age of 13 he was making drawings at home and exhibiting them in his father's shop window for sale. He entered the Royal Academy Schools in 1789. He is the one of the finest landscape artists whose work was exhibited when he was still a teenager.

His entire life was devoted to his art. Wherever he visited he studied the effects of sea and sky in every kind of weather. He became interested in contemporary technology. He developed a painting technique all his own. Instead of merely recording factually what he saw, he translated scenes into a light-filled expression of his own romantic feelings. In 1840 he met the critic John Ruskin, who became the great champion of his work. At the time his free, expressive treatment of these subjects was criticized. He was considered a controversial figure in his day. As he grew older he became an eccentric. Except for his father, he had no close friends. He allowed no one to watch him while he painted. One day he disappeared from his house. His housekeeper, after a search of many months, found him hiding in a house in Chelsea. He had been ill for a long time.