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J. M. W. Turner

London 1775 - 1851
Price range
0 – 3,000,000 USD +
Joseph Mallord William Turner, R.A. is one of the greatest British artists. He was eccentric and reclusive, hoarded his work, leaving much of it to the nation and though a fearless innovator had a deep respect for the past. 

The critic John Ruskin credited him with elevating landscape painting to the level of history painting. Monet later spoke of “doing battle with the sun” but Turner was as victorious in his expressionistic mastery of sunlight and atmosphere. His early reputation was in the established English tradition of topographical watercolors but he soon began to travel abroad, notably in France, the Rhine valley, Switzerland and Italy, where he could find more dramatic scenery. He acquired some powerful patrons, but many were baffled by his increasingly impressionistic style.

Ruskin however extolled him as true to the moods of nature. Though personally reclusive, Turner was never shy of publicity and embarked on a printmaking venture, the Liber Studiorum, to disseminate his work more widely.

Ruskin wrote a delightful account of Turner’s boyhood exploring the wharfs and banks of the Thames and Turner was proud of Britain’s maritime supremacy. In one of his first masterpieces, the so-called Bridgewater Sea Piece (1801) he pays homage to the art of a former maritime power, the Dutch of the seventeenth century, notably to the marine painter Willem van de Velde (1633–1707) who also worked in England. By 1810, in the Wreck of a Transport his style had become broader with emphasis on the perils of the sea in the vortex like composition. In Hannibal crossing the Alps (1812) the terrifying powers of nature are even more dramatically expressed and this for Turner was to be an ongoing theme.

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Selected artworks

Top 3 auction prices

35,856,000 $
45,099,164 $
47,609,516 $


The sales are: Christie’s New York – 6 Apr 2006 lot 97, Sotheby’s London – 7 Jul 2010 lot 57 (29,721,250 GBP), and Sotheby’s London – 3 Dec 2014 lot 44 (30,322,500 GBP).
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Notable exhibitions

London, Tate Gallery, Turner in Germany, 23 May – 10 September 1995; travelled to Mannheim, Städtische Kunsthalle Mannheim, 26 September 1995 – 14 January 1996; Hamburg, Hamburger Kunsthalle, 25 January – 31 March 1996. Curated by Cecilia Powell.

London, Tate Gallery, Turner and Byron, 3 June – 20 September 1992. Curated by David B. Brown.

Toronto, Art Gallery of Ontario, Turner and the Sublime, 1 November 1980 – 4 January 1981; travelled to New Haven, Yale Center for British Art, 11 February – 19 April 1981; London, The British Museum, 15 May – 20 September 1981. Curated by Andrew Wilton.

Zürich, Kunsthaus Zürich, Turner und die Schweiz, 7 October 1976 – 2 January 1977. Curated by Felix Andreas Baumann and K. Seltmann.

London, Royal Academy, Turner, 1775–1851, 16 November 1974 – 2 March 1975. Curated by Andrew Wilton.

New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Turner: Imagination and Reality, 23 March – 19 June 1966. Curated by Lawrence Gowing.


Books on Turner

Andrew Wilton, Turner in his Time, New York, 1987.

Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W.Turner, New Haven, 1984.

Walter Thornbury, The Life of J.M.W. Turner, R.A., London, 1862.

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