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By Maria Peitcheva
J. M. W. Turner Drawings:Colour Plates
Copyright © 2016 Maria Peitcheva
Joseph Mallord William Turner was English painter, one of the greatest and most original of all landscape painters. His family called him Bill or William, but he is now invariably known by his initials. Precociously gifted, he became a student at the Royal Academy Schools in 1789 and first exhibited a watercolor at the Academy in 1790, when he was only 15. He studied at the Academy for four years, and during this time also had lessons from Thomas Malton, a topographical watercolorist who specialized in neat and detailed town views. From 1791 Turner began making regular sketching tours, producing many drawings of picturesque views and architectural subjects that he later sold to engravers or worked up into watercolors. At this time his work was more polished but less inventive than that of his friend Girtin. Initially he painted only in watercolor, but in 1796 he first exhibited oil at the Academy, Fishermen at Sea (Tate Gallery, London), a work showing his admiration for 17th-century Dutch marine painting. Only three years later, in 1799, he was elected an Associate of the RoyalAcademy at the youngest permitted age (24), and in 1802 he became the youngest ever full Academician. His career flourished in terms of money as well as prestige, for he was hardworking, a good businessman, and economical by nature (he lived rather squalidly, but he was not miserly or ungenerous, as is sometimes maintained).
The Dutch influence in Turner's work soon gave way to that of Claude and Wilson, but already in the early 1800s it was recognized that he was introducing a new and revolutionary approach to landscape, his painting becoming increasingly Romantic in its dramatic subject-matter and sense of movement, as in the powerful Shipwreck (Tate Gallery, London, 1805). During these years, however, he continued exhibiting pictures in a more conventional manner and still worked for engravers (his most ambitious engraving project was his Liber Studiorum, conceived in emulation of Claude's Liber Veritatis and intended to show the range of his own work; between 1807 and 1819 he issued 71 of a projected 100 plates).
Turner made his first journey to the Continent in 1802, during a temporary peace in the war with France, visiting Paris like so many other artists to see pictures looted by Napoleon, which were then on exhibition. From Paris he traveled on to