“The father of modern art” John Ruskin 1843
JMW Turner (1775-1851) is one of the most celebrated artists in British history.
Inquisitive, curious, experimental, provocative; Turner has made a lasting impact on art and culture, from the Turner Prize to our own Turner Contemporary gallery.
"...my job is to draw what I see, not what I know" JMW Turner
Turner was a pioneering – and controversial - artist of his time. He challenged contemporary views on art, and for many he stands at a crossroads between classical and modern art.
His work often captured the mood or impression of an event or landscape, rather than depicting a representation of reality. Critics accused him of representing “nothing that ever existed in nature”. Using his imagination, as much as what he saw, set Turner on the path to success.
In 1802, age 27, Turner had become a Royal Academician. His first oil painting was exhibited at the Academy’s annual exhibition when he was aged just 21.
In 1803 he set up a spacious gallery in his house in Harley Street London to hang his paintings that could not fit in the exhibition room at the Royal Academy. This was an ingenious way to promote his work and build his reputation as Britain’s leading artist of the time.
Turner’s biggest advocate, art critic John Ruskin, believed that “We have had, living amongst us and working for us, the greatest painter of all time.” He even published ‘Modern Painters' between 1843 and 1860 to convince everyone of this conviction.
Turner’s career spanned the greatest period of social, economic and scientific change that the world had ever seen. Throughout his career, these scientific and technological advances, and how they affected the world and society around him, influenced his work and thinking.
In his later years, Turner was notorious for sending unfinished canvases to the Academy exhibitions. He would then finish them in the exhibition on Varnishing Day (which was intended for minor touch ups). This “chaos before the creation” became legendary.
In 1984 Tate established the prestigious and radical Turner Prize, which fulfilled Turner's wish to provide an award for young artists.
Now, our gallery is testament to Turner’s lasting influence as a visionary. His passion to create something new and original continues to inspire artists today.
Find out more about Turner’s work and life on the Tate Britain: Turner online website.