Artist: Joseph Mallord William Turner

Date of Birth:
1775
Date of Death:
1851
Place of Death:
London
Residence in Dumfries & Galloway:

Visited 1801 and about 1830

Professional Bodies:

RA

Associates:

Associated with Sir Walter Scott in the illustration of his works

Bibliography:

Turner in his Time, Andrew Wilton, Thames and Hudson, 1987.

Notes:

Visited Dumfries and Galloway 1801 and c1830. Drawings of Gretna, Moffat, Annan etc. His drawing of Solway Moss (Finberg)no. 52) Liber Studiorum, Part XI mezzotint engraving by Thomas Goff Lupton 1816. Tate Gallery web site: drawings of Moffat, Lochhouse Tower, Solway Firth, Gretna, Merkland Cross, Solway Moss, Bonshaw Tower in Scottish Lakes sketch book. New Abbey for Scott’s Prose Works and Minstrelsey of the Scottish Borders; Caerlaverock Castle for Scott’s Poetical Works and Minstrelsey, also drawings of River Esk and probably Dundrennan. His "Hurrah for the Whaler Erebus – Another Fish" Tate Britain, records James Clark Ross’s Research Expedition voyage of discovery to Antartica 1839 – 1843 (Ross came from Stranraer


Turner was born near Covent Garden, London, in 1775, the son of a barber, who exhibited his son’s early works for sale in the window of his shop. By the age of 14 Turner had already shown sufficient promise to be sent to the Royal Academy as a scholar, and created an increasing reputation for himself as one of the country’s foremost young landscape artists over the next ten years.

In the mid 1790s he spent some time in Wales, painting in localities close to those of his friend and rival, Thomas Girtin. The latter died aged 27 in 1802, leading Turner to say “If Tom Girtin had lived, I should have starved”.

In 1801 he paid his first visit to Scotland. He was always a prolific, almost manic sketcher, and about thirty sketches survive from his short journey along the turnpike road between Moffat and Gretna. None of these seem to have been worked up into finished drawings or paintings. He was also a compulsive traveller; after Waterloo he was a regular visitor to the Continent, where he painted some of his most famous works, including the series of Venetian scenes. An insight into Turner during his journeys was provided by a fellow-traveller in 1829:

“I have fortunately met with a good-tempered, funny, little, elderly gentleman…He is continually popping his head out of the window to sketch whatever takes his fancy…”

Turner’s extensive travels abroad did not preclude further British explorations, and he came to know much of the land intimately. Many of his later travels were connected with literary projects, and in 1831 he returned to Scotland to sketch in preparation for a series of paintings to be engraved as illustrations for a new edition of the works of Sir Walter Scott. Among the surviving sketches, some of which later appeared in the resulting publication, were views of Sweetheart Abbey, Lochmaben Castle and Caerlaverock Castle. There is also an  original watercolour of the latter, which can be compared with that of his friend David Roberts.

It was as a watercolourist that Turner was without peer, although he had considerable mastery in oils too. Some had noted a tendency to secrecy and enjoyment of mystery in his character and working life, but in his later years he would half-finish some of his canvases, completing them on “Varnishing Day” in the Royal Academy watched by an admiring public able to view the rapidity of his technique. He died in 1851 at his secret “bolt-hole” in Chelsea, his friends only discovered his whereabouts the day before his death.

In 1856 his works, often bought back from their owners by Turner, were gifted to the nation under the terms of his will, and are to be found at the Tate Gallery http://www.tate.org.uk/britain/turner.  Most of the images, including those from his sketchbooks, can now be seen online at this website.