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  More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)

More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)
J.M.W. Turner

(Joseph Mallord William Turner, 1775–1851)
Landscape painter of great originality in his use of light and colour. Son of a London barber, he entered the *Royal Academy schools when he was 14 and became a full academician at the exceptionally young age of 27. He first made his name supplying publishers with watercolours of *picturesque scenes from around the country, which were then turned by others into romantic topographical prints.

This work established his life-long pattern of constant travelling and sketching. He later published his own choice of his best work in printed form – the famous Liber Studiorum (Latin for 'book of studies'), consisting of 70 landscapes issued from 1807 to 1819 in groups of five (each of them an etching with mezzotint). He frequently journeyed abroad, as well as round Britain, his favourite sources of inspiration being Venice and the mountain scenery of Switzerland.

Turner's *watercolours, which in his early days were in a detailed topographical style, steadily became more impressionistic during his long career; and the same pattern prevailed in his oils. His early works show him inspired by Dutch seascapes of the 17C; he then, from about 1803, set himself to rival the classical manner of *Claude, with shimmering effects of sunlight on water (Turner gave two paintings in this vein to the National Gallery on condition that they hang beside his two favourite Claudes, which they have done ever since); and he finally progressed to his dazzling use of almost abstract colour, with the details of the landscape only hinted at in a blaze of light.

This was the style which *Constable described as painting 'with tinted steam'. It was said that Turner often added tiny but crucial touches on varnishing day, the very last moment before the opening of the *Royal Academy's annual exhibition, even choosing his colours to upstage neighbouring pictures. His paintings prefigured two later movements in art. The Impressionists were struck by his treatment of light (*Monet and *Pissarro saw his work in London in 1870), and the Abstract Expressionists of the mid-20C were excited by his free use of colour.

Two of his best-known paintings are in the National Gallery (The *Fighting Téméraire, *Rain, Steam and Speed), and there is an interesting collection of his work at *Petworth, which became almost a second home in the 1830s. But the place to see Turner is in the *Tate, which houses the Turner Bequest – about 300 oil paintings and some 19,000 watercolours and drawings which came to the nation after his death. He left the finished oil paintings with the proviso that a gallery should be provided to house them. This was finally achieved with the opening of the Tate's Clore Gallery in 1987.

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