In this second volume in the Ackroyd’s Brief Lives series, bestselling author Peter Ackroyd brings us a man of humble beginnings, crude manners, and prodigious talents, the nineteenth-century painter J. M. W. Turner.
Joseph Mallord William Turner was born in London in 1775. His father was a barber, and his mother came from a family of London butchers. “His speech was recognizably that of a Cockney, and his language was the language of the streets.” As his finest paintings show, his language was also the language of light. Turner’s landscapes—extraordinary studies in light, colour, and texture—caused an uproar during his lifetime and earned him a place as one of the greatest artists in history.
Displaying his artistic abilities as a young child, Turner entered the Royal Academy of Arts when he was just fourteen years old. A year later his paintings appeared in an important public exhibition, and he rapidly achieved prominence, becoming a Royal Academician in 1802 and Professor of Perspective at the Academy from 1807–1837. His private life, however, was less orderly. Never married, he spent much time living in taverns, where he was well known for his truculence and his stinginess with money.
Peter Ackroyd deftly follows Turner’s first loves of architecture, engraving, and watercolours, and the country houses, cathedrals, and landscapes of England. While his passion for Italy led him to oil painting, Turner’s love for London remained central to his heart and soul, and it was within sight of his beloved Thames that he died in 1851. His dying words were: “The sun is God.”
Also available in ACKROYD’S BRIEF LIVES
In the second volume of his Brief Lives series, which commenced with a biography of Chaucer, Ackroyd presents another major cultural figure, the English painter Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775 1851). In straightforward fashion, Ackroyd outlines the career of this remarkable man, who progressed rapidly from his early years as a student at the Royal Academy to prominence as one of England's foremost painters, creating dramatic works in which he explored the glowing effects of light fused with air, water, fire and steam. Turner's paintings, which often approach abstraction, astounded and shocked his critics, causing some to say he was a madman, an assessment reinforced by his eccentric, irascible character. Ackroyd shows how the artist, who never married and lived all his life with his father though he had secret liaisons and two illegitimate daughters was obsessed with his art, but was also an astute businessman, opening his own gallery in London when he was only 29, cultivating prosperous patrons and speculating in land and houses, all the while turning out a multitude of dazzling oil paintings, watercolors and engravings. This is a short but intriguing introduction to the life and output of an artist who claimed that he knew of "no genius but the genius of hard work." Illus. not seen by PW.
Customer ReviewsSee All
A bit of a slog
Of some interest, but missing the kinds of interesting snippets and insights that would make it come alive. More of a travel log or inventory…