A posthumous milestone for ‘a painter of the sea and sun’

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JMW Turner’s The Bridgewater Sea Piece / Dutch Boats in a Gale, 1801. Photograph: The National Gallery | Via The Guardian

June 18, On This Day

Turner, painted from memory by John Linnell (1838) | Via wikimedia

Henri Matisse admired him and Mark Rothko is said to have revered him. Mid-18th to mid-19th century artist Joseph Mallord William or JMW Turner (who was known in his time as just William Turner), has been called by critics “the best painter of the sea and sun, and one of the finest poetic users of colour”.

JMW Turner’s The Bridgewater Sea Piece / Dutch Boats in a Gale, 1801. Photograph: The National Gallery | Via The Guardian

On June 18, 1976, his striking watercolour of fishing boats in a gale, ‘The Bridgewater Sea Piece / Dutch Boats in a Gale’ (64×87 inches), was auctioned for £340,000 ($604,860) — a record for the time. This masterpiece was displayed at the National Gallery since 1998, on long-term loan from a private collector named Harry Hyams, who died in 2016, but indicated in his will that the painting stay in its place, but still on loan.

Modern Rome – Campo Vaccino, 1839 | Via wikimedia

An English Romantic painter, printmaker and watercolourist, Turner was quite an interesting and sometimes controversial personality. He left behind more than 550 oil paintings, 2,000 watercolours, and 30,000 works on paper and is known for his expressive colourisations, imaginative landscapes and turbulent, often violent marine paintings. Turner experimented with many pigments like carmine, and was contrary to the advice of contemporary experts to use more durable ones. As a result, many of his colours have now faded.

Snow Storm: Hannibal and his Army Crossing the Alps, 1812, oil on canvas, Tate Britain | Via wikimedia

He lived in London all his life, retained his Cockney accent and avoided the trappings of success and fame. Turner was a child prodigy, and studied at the Royal Academy of Arts from 1789, enrolling when he was 14, and exhibiting his first work there at 15. He was intensely private, eccentric and reclusive and did not marry, but fathered two daughters, Eveline and Georgiana, by his housekeeper Sarah Danby.

The Slave Ship, 1840, oil on canvas, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston | Via wikimedia

Turner fell into despair after the death of his father, his art intensified, and he lived in squalor and poor health for several years. In 1841, he even rowed a boat into the Thames, just so that he could not be counted as present at any property in that year’s census. He died in London in 1851 aged 76. In 1984, the Tate in Britain created the prestigious annual Turner Prize art award, named in his honour.

Fishermen at Sea, exhibited in 1796 was the first oil painting exhibited by Turner at the Royal Academy | Via wikimedia