William Turner and the Royal Academy - Maxicours

William Turner and the Royal Academy

Objectifs
  • Découvrir un aspect de la thématique d'étude l'art qui fait débat
  • Approfondir ses connaissances sur l'œuvre et la vie de William Turner
Points clés
  • William Turner est un peintre romantique spécialiste des paysages et des marines tourmentées.
  • Il commence à étudier à l'Académie Royale à l'âge de 14 ans ! Il y enseignera d'ailleurs la perspective à partir de 1807.
  • Aquarelliste à ses débuts, il est surtout connu pour ses peintures à l'huile. Sa plus célèbre est sans nul doute Rain, Steam and Speed.
  • Sa capacité à restituer la lumière et les ombres sur ses toiles est impressionnante, en particulier celles du ciel, qui tient toujours une place importante dans ses tableaux.
  • La couleur jaune est très employée dans ses différentes œuvres.

Joseph Mallord William Turner was –supposedly– born on 23 April, 1775. He is one of the greatest Romantic painters England has ever had. Known all over the world for his oil paintings he first became a watercolour painter and devoted himself to landscapes and violent marine paintings. A prolific artist, he died in 1851 after realizing 550 oil paintings, 2,000 watercolours and more than 30,000 other works and he is still considered today as the best landscape painter ever!

1. Turner and the Royal Academy of Arts

William Turner was a child prodigy and his father, a Covent Garden barber and wig maker, was so proud of his talents that he exposed his drawings in his workshop whereas William was only 12. He started painting in 1786 when he was sent to his uncle’s who lived on the banks of the Thames because his mother, who suffered from mental disturbance, could not look after him. His taste for landscapes probably found its origins there.
From 1789, he studied at the Royal Academy and his first work, A view of the Archbishop’s  Palace, Lambeth was displayed there when he was 15.

He was then accepted into the academy by a famous painter, Sir Joshua Reynolds. He regularly exhibited watercolours and spent his time travelling and painting. Used to painting watercolours, he changed his technique in 1796 when he exhibited his first oil painting at the Academy, Fishermen at Sea.

In 1799, William Turner was elected an Associate Member of the Royal Academy and in 1802 he became a full Academician. From 1807 he was Professor of Perspective at the Academy where he lectured until 1828 but he never became president of the prestigious institution.
What characterizes Turner’s works today is how he managed to capture light and shade in his paintings –a great innovation– and some of them, like Rain, Steam and Speed are considered as highlights of his career.

As we can see here, skies mattered a lot to Turner. Indeed, most of his paintings featured the skies. Critic John Ruskin said he was ‘the’ artist who could most

Truthfully measure the moods of Nature.

And we can easily understand he meant the skies when he mentioned “the moods of Nature”.

2. An Eccentric Man

William Turner was a controversial figure and as the years went by he became more and more eccentric. For instance, his sketches of nudes were disapproved of by lots of people, even some of his friends were embarrassed and they upset the Establishment. Others criticized his excessive use of yellow in his works and it made his detractors, jealous of his fame, say that he had jaundice.
As far as his private life is concerned, we know that he never married though two women shared his life: his housekeeper Sarah Danby with whom he is said to have had two daughters and Sophia Caroline Booth who lived with him for about 18 years; he was then known as “Mr Booth”.
He had few close friends but one of them was his father whose death in 1789 plunged him into depression. He then became pessimistic and morose and his health deteriorated. He faced poverty from 1845 and died of cholera six years later.

3. Conclusion

Precursor of the Impressionist movement, the Master of light leaves behind a considerable amount of paintings and influenced the classicist and romantic movements. He especially loved painting people, boats and landscapes. Fascinated with Nature and the sky in particular, he is even said to have muttered:

Sun is God

before passing away.
You can discover his works at the Tate Gallery in London.

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