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  • JMW Turner, Waves Breaking on a Lee Shore at Margate, circa 1840, Oil on canvas

    JMW Turner, Waves Breaking on a Lee Shore at Margate, circa 1840, Oil on canvas

    Courtesy of Tate. Image © Tate, London 2010
  • JMW Turner, The New Moon or I've lost My Boat, You shan't have Your Hoop, exhibited 1840

    JMW Turner, The New Moon or I've lost My Boat, You shan't have Your Hoop, exhibited 1840

    Courtesy of Tate. Image © Tate, London 2010
  • JMW Turner, Margate 1830, watercolour

    JMW Turner, Margate 1830, watercolour

    Courtesy of Herbert Art Gallery and Museum. Image © Herbert Art Gallery and Museum, Coventry 2010
  • JMW Turner, From Picturesque Views on the Southern Coast of England, Margate, 1824, Intaglio print on paper

    JMW Turner, From Picturesque Views on the Southern Coast of England, Margate, 1824, Intaglio print on paper

    Courtesy of Tate. Image © Tate, London 2010
  •  '... the skies over Thanet are the loveliest in all Europe' JMW Turner

    '... the skies over Thanet are the loveliest in all Europe' JMW Turner

    Margate sunset. Photo Bryony Bishop 
  • The shell lady (aka Mrs Booth) looks out to sea, waiting for Turner's return

    The shell lady (aka Mrs Booth) looks out to sea, waiting for Turner's return

    Copyright Thanet District Council 

About > Turner

“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.

A controversial artist

"...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.

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.

 

A new legacy

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.

Turner and Margate

Where therefore, and in this very town of Margate, he lived, when he chose to be quit of London, and yet not to travel” John Ruskin

Turner’s connection with Margate was the founding inspiration for our organisation. He loved Margate for the sea, the skies, and his landlady Mrs Booth.

He first came to the seaside town aged 11, having been sent by his parents to school in Love Lane in MargateOld Town. He returned to sketch here aged 21 and from the 1820s onwards became a regular visitor.

Location
For Turner, location was of great importance. He remarked to the influential writer and art critic John Ruskin that“…the skies over Thanet are the loveliest in all Europe”. The unique quality of light in this part of Kent drew Turner back time and again.

More than 100 of Turner’s works, including some of his most famous seascapes, were inspired by the East Kent coast. Margate was the starting point for his visits to Europe, and a love of the sea stayed with him all his life.

Mrs Booth
Turner’s relationship with his landlady Mrs Booth (now immortalised by the shell lady at the end of Margate’s Harbour Arm) was clearly special to him - he even called himself ‘Mr Booth’ after the death of her husband.

Mrs Booth’s seafront guest house on Cold Harbour at Rendezvous, where Turner stayed when visiting the town, was originally situated on the same site where our gallery has been built.

From the gallery, everyone can see the fine views over the harbour that Turner saw, capturing the same unique light that inspired his works.

Merry Margate
From Turner’s time onwards, Margate grew as the destination for Londoners wishing to escape the smog of the city.

With the advent of regular, affordable paddle steamboat excursions, substantial sea-water baths and the first sea bathing hospital in the world, people came in their droves to benefit from the medicinal and recreational delights of the town.

As more people visited the seaside resort, beautiful Georgian and Victorian buildings were erected to accommodate and entertain holiday makers. Elegant squares, fashionable hotels, and crescents with sea-views; Margate was a spectacle of architectural grandeur, which can still be seen today.

In the 20th century Margate remained a favourite holiday destination for many British families. They came to the South Coast’s ‘Dreamland’ for the sun, sea, sand, amusements and unrivalled views. Our seaside town has left fond memories for generations of visitors. 

To discover more about Margate’s history, visit the Margate Historical Society

Revival

“The brilliant thing about Turner Contemporary is that it has given people hope that things are going to change here and also put Margate back on the map.” Tracey Emin, Artist

Turner Contemporary has led Margate’s renaissance. The town is now a must-visit destination, lauded as a hotspot by Rough Guide, The Guardian and Easyjet.

The gallery has been cited by British Airways as an iconic landmark of the 21st Century.

In addition, Turner Contemporary has done much to change perceptions about the area and has put Margate back on the UK cultural map.  We’ve attracted media attention from across the globe and Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Cambridge (2015), Her Majesty the Queen (2011) and the Prime Minister (2013) have all now visited the gallery.

“Go to Margate and marvel... something quite magical has taken place.”
Sir Peter Bazalgette, Chair Arts Council England

“Turner Contemporary has put this neglected seaside resort back on the map.”
The Times, Cool Weekend Guide

Offering a landmark contemporary art space alongside the town’s many other attractions - the Theatre Royal MargateWinter GardensWalpole Bay HotelOld TownThe Shell Grotto and Dreamland Amusement Park - Margate’s rich history will fuse with its bright future.

For a full list of events and acitivities taking place in Margate and the area, go to visitthanet.co.uk.

Turner tour of Kent

We commissioned artist Stephen Turner to look at JMW Turner’s relationship with Kent.

Stephen has selected 10 images that show the breadth of Turner’s work in Kent and invite readers to travel to a number of locations around the county visited by the artist himself.

Download the tour from the bottom of this page and travel through Turner's Kent.

The Independent have written a review of the tour, read it here.  

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