Joseph Mallord William Turner was born in the area of Covent garden in 1775 and from an early age he exhibited incredible talent with the brush which spurred his parents to send him to study art at the Royal Academy. Here he was appraised by such luminaries as Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Hardwick with the latter encouraging him to take up paining instead of architecture.
Joseph Turner is seen as one of the finest painters of his generation although at the time he was quite misunderstood. His works are full of intrinsic beauty and impressionist tendencies especially where it concerns the painting of romantic scenes or objects such as ships and other great buildings.
It is known that Turner did not actually see some of the paintings which he completed so most of the work was actually done through his imagination. Paintings such as ‘Brougham Castle’ demonstrate the artist’s brilliance with the brush as the scene of wild abandon continues to dominate proceedings in a manner which no other artist can convey. The wild nature and stormy background also demonstrate the artist’s predilection for such landscape painting and some added psychological touches.
Turner’s imagination was definitely a very fertile one but he obviously had substantial competition from other artists in the field. Some such as John Constable focused on the beauty of the landscape and painted things as they actually saw them while others such as George Stubbs preferred to focus on animals with horses being Stubbs’ particular favourite.
Turner’s technique where he used shimmering light more often than not was perhaps not wholly understood in his day and this brought about certain conflicts with other artists and also at the Royal Society of Art who initially failed to appreciate the great strength of his work which has held for posterity. Turner was avante garde in the sense that he could create scenes out of mere imagination in his mind and that was something which contemporary artists of the day would perhaps not understand.
Personally, I find Turner’s work incredibly fascinating especially where ships and other similar subjects are concerned. His ability to create paintings from memory is something which I find quite magical and in subjects such as ‘The Slave Ship’, one can only marvel at the power of Turner’s imagination which is second to none.
Turner also gave vent to his substantial creative imagination in paintings such as ‘The Chichester Canal’ where the wild sky with yellowish hues may have been inspired by the eruption of a volcanoe. Here one can sense that Turner adds bold brushwork to the scene creating what can be termed as a picture postcard with a difference. I do find this intensely intriguing and hugely appealing.
Other maritime paintings such as Calais Pier and ‘Fishing Fleet’ show the artist’s continued fascination with the sea as a subject. His imagination runs riot in the former painting which shows a number of boats struggling in the rough seas with the greenish hue given to the painting looking particularly powerful. I find Turner’s imagination on maritime subjects his strongest point and this is perhaps what makes him stand out from other artists as a powerful and distinct personality with capabilities of strong and direct messaging.
James Hamilton, Turner - A Life (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1997.) Turner (New York: Random House, 2003), Print