Turner was a water-colourist, a printmaker but first of all he was a landscapes painter. He’s known as the painter of light but he started very young drawing architectures and prospectives but, thanks to the Royal Academy, he became a true painter. He painted the quite and calm England, but at the beginning of the 19th century the country wasn’t really well because of the Napoleonic wars. He grew up among the poor and the desperate, so we don’t find the glory or the topics of the Revolution in his paintings.
As a romanticist, we didn’t just paint what he saw but he transformed reality into a personal vision, showing the frailty and weakness of human existence: the human bodies in his works seem invertebrates, empty, like they are overwhelmed by nature, by events and by fate. Sometimes he also painted with his hands and fingers and this is what had detached him from other artists. As he grew older, he became more abstract: we don’t have defined colours any more, just large patches of colours, where the light is the protagonist. In fact he saw the light as the emanation of the Holy Spirit (he said even “The sun is God”) and, in his last works, the objects blend with the light, foretelling Impressionism.
William Turner was born in Covent Garden, London. His date of birth is unsure, we just know he was baptised on 14 May 1775, so we take 23 April 1775 as true. His father was a barber and a wig maker while his mother came from a family of butchers. She gave signs of mental imbalance, aggravated by her daughter’s death; she died in a mental hospital in 1804. In 1785, as a result of a “fit of illness” in the family, he moved to his uncle in Brentford, where he started being interested in painting.
In 1789, when he was just fourteen, he was admitted at the Royal Academy of Art thanks to his painting Fishermen at the sea. At first he was interested in architecture but then he had been directed to painting. Claude Lorrain and Nicolas Poussin were his inspiration for his classic landscapes.