Turner is perhaps the best-loved English Romantic artist. He became known as ‘the painter of light’, because of his increasing interest in brilliant colours as the main constituent in his landscapes and seascapes. His works include water colours, oils and engravings.
Turner was born near Covent Garden in London and entered the Royal Academy Schools in 1789. His earliest works form part of the 18th-century topographical tradition. He was soon inspired by 17th-century Dutch artists such as Willem van der Velde, and by the Italianate landscapes of Claude and Richard Wilson.
He exhibited watercolours at the Royal Academy from 1790, and oils from 1796. In 1840 he met the critic John Ruskin, who became the great champion of his work.
Turner became interested in contemporary technology, as can be seen from ‘The Fighting Temeraire’ and ‘Rain, Steam and Speed’. At the time his free, expressive treatment of these subjects was criticised, but it is now widely appreciated.
Turner bequeathed much of his work to the nation. The great majority of the paintings are now at Tate Britain.