Joseph Mallord William Turner is arguably Britain’s greatest and most mysterious painter, whose range of work encompasses seascape and landscape, immensely powerful oil paintings and intimate watercolours. His friend and colleague C. R. Leslie remembered him thus: ‘Turner was short and stout, and had a sturdy, sailor-like walk. He might be taken for the captain of a river steamboat at first glance; but a second would find more in his face than belongs in any ordinary mind. There was that peculiar keenness of expression in his eye that is only seen in men of constant habits of observation’.
The son of a Covent garden barber and a woman who died in Bethlehem hospital, Turner achieved fame and fortune during his lifetime. Although he possessed a wide-ranging imagination, he was an often incoherent speaker and writer, and his muddled will produced much discord – it is a wonder that, despite avaricious relatives and incompetent lawyers, so many of his works are now in the hands of the nation, and publicly proclaim his genius.
In this previously unavailable biography, Anthony Bailey has drawn upon archival material, scholarly literature and research, as well as studying many of Turner’s sketchbooks, paintings and watercolours. Uncovering fresh material, as well as pulling together previously known facts, Bailey has shed new light on this complicated and secretive artistic figure.
Anthony Bailey is an author and has written for The New Yorker. His books include a biographical study of another great painter, Rembrandt’s House, the novel Major André and memoirs from America and England.