William Turner

William Turner

Style: Romanticism

Lived: April 23, 1775 - December 19, 1851 (18th - 19th century)

Nationality: United Kingdom


Joseph Mallord William Turner (often abbreviated as William Turner) was born in Covent Garden, London on April 23, 1775. His father, William, was a wig maker and later became a barber, and his mother, Mary Marshall was a housewife. William's mother became increasingly mentally unstable, perhaps due to the fact that William's younger sister died when she still was a young girl. William's mother died in 1804, having been committed to a mental asylum.

Because of this rather difficult family situation, William Turner was sent in 1785 to stay with his uncle on his mother's side in Brentford, which was then a small town west of London on the banks of the Thames. It was here that he first expressed an interest in painting. A year later he went to school in Margate in Kent to the east of London in the area of the Thames estuary. At this time he had been creating many paintings, which his father exhibited in his shop window.

When William Turner turned 15, he went to the Royal Academy of Art. Turner had the chance to exhibit his first work ever, a watercolor, after only one year of his studies. In 1796 William Turner exhibited his first oil painting. William Turner always remembered the Royal Academy of Art, and continued exhibiting there throughout the rest of his life.


Turner travelled widely in Europe, starting with France and Switzerland in 1802 and studying in the Louvre in Paris in the same year. He also made many visits to Venice during his lifetime. William Turner never married, although he had a mistress, Sarah Danby, by whom he had two daughters. Amongst his most famous work is 'The fighting Temeraire tugged to her last berth to be broken up', painted in 1839.


As he grew older, Turner became more eccentric. He had few close friends, except for his father, who lived with him for thirty years, eventually working as his studio assistant. His father died in 1829, which had a profound effect on him, and thereafter he was subject to bouts of depression.

William Turner died in his house in Cheyne Walk, Chelsea on December 19 1851. At his request he was buried in St Paul's Cathedral, where he lies next to Sir Joshua Reynolds. His last exhibition at the Royal Academy was in 1850.

Turner left a large fortune that he hoped would be used to support what he called "decaying artists." His collection of paintings was bequeathed to the British nation, and he intended that a special gallery would be built to house them. This did not come to pass owing to a dispute by his descendants over the legality of his will. Twenty years after his death, the paintings were given over to the British Museum.

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