This book is a bit of a change for me. When I was studying at the Open University for my degree in Art History I read several biographies of artists, but the last couple of years I haven’t read as many non fiction books as I used to.
This book is suitable for all readers, even if you don’t have much knowledge of art you will have heard of Turner.
Joseph William Mallard Turner (1775 – 1851) is one of England’s most well known artists. He was part of the movement called Romanticism, a pre-cursor to Impressionism, and is most well known for his oil paintings which depicted the realism of nature. Turner lived in an interesting period of history, both politically and culturally. The Grand Tour of Europe, popular in the eighteenth century, was no longer popular due to the polital changes in Europe, in particular the revolution in France. In England there were also a revolution but of the Industrial kind. In 1775, the year of Turner’s birth, the Royal Academy of Arts was opened in London encouraging English art and artists. Turner attended the school at the Royal Academy and at the age of fifteen became the youngest artist to have his works on public display. However, in later years, the Royal Academy withdrew its support of Turner and condemned his later experimental work and referring to him as mad. By the end of his life Turner was living under an assumed name, with a widow, which was scandalous in nineteenth century London. He became seen as eccentric, mad and was penniless.
This biography grips the reader from the first page; it opens with Turner’s death in sulubrious circumstances, which makes you want to know more. It is a balanced biography, that not only looks at Turner the artist, but also looks at him as a man and the influences on his life, the contemporary art scene, and the political and cultural history of the period.
It is a well written enjoyable read; you don’t need any knowledge of art or the art world to enjoy this biography. My only complaint was that there were no images of his work to reference in my kindle version, I’m not sure if there are in the physical book, it would have added to the understanding of his paintings. I have to say I’m glad I read this and I will not be leaving it so long before I pick up another biography of an artist.