“If I could find anything blacker than black, I’d use it.”

Joseph Mallord William TurnerRomanticist

personal life • works&style

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.

La Belle Dame Sans Merci’ by J.W. Waterhouse, 1893

This painting is based on La Belle Dame Sans Merci by John Keats

Ah, what can ail thee, wretched wight,
Alone and palely loitering;
The sedge is wither’d from the lake,
And no birds sing.

Ah, what can ail thee, wretched wight,
So haggard and so woe-begone?
The squirrel’s granary is full,
And the harvest’s done.

I see a lily on thy brow,
With anguish moist and fever dew;
And on thy cheek a fading rose
Fast withereth too.

I met a lady in the meads
Full beautiful, a faery’s child;
Her hair was long, her foot was light,
And her eyes were wild.

I set her on my pacing steed,
And nothing else saw all day long;
For sideways would she lean, and sing
A faery’s song.

I made a garland for her head,
And bracelets too, and fragrant zone;
She look’d at me as she did love,
And made sweet moan.

She found me roots of relish sweet,
And honey wild, and manna dew;
And sure in language strange she said,
I love thee true.

She took me to her elfin grot,
And there she gaz’d and sighed deep,
And there I shut her wild sad eyes -
So kiss’d to sleep.

And there we slumber’d on the moss,
And there I dream’d, ah woe betide,
The latest dream I ever dream’d
On the cold hill side.

I saw pale kings, and princes too,
Pale warriors, death-pale were they all;
Who cry’d - ‘La Belle Dame sans merci
Hath thee in thrall!’

I saw their starv’d lips in the gloam
With horrid warning gaped wide,
And I awoke, and found me here
On the cold hill side.

And this is why I sojourn here
Alone and palely loitering,
Though the sedge is wither’d from the lake,
And no birds sing.


“[…] my job is to draw what I see, not what I know.”

Joseph Mallord William TurnerRomanticist

personal life • works&style

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.

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