Mr. Turner’s Britain: 5 Destinations that Shaped the Artist

Timothy Spall as J.M.W. Turner

With Mr. Turner currently earning great notices and a retrospective of his late work exhibiting at The Tate, the life and work of artist Joseph Mallord William Turner has never been more talked about. But with a career spanning over 60 years involving the creation of countless sketches and paintings in several different countries, understanding where to begin an appreciation of Turner’s life and work can be a daunting prospect.

With Turner’s current prominence in mind, we’re decided to look at a few key works from his life and suggest where might be the best place to appreciate some of his works: the locations where they were painstakingly created.  As a renowned “painter of light”, Turner is regarded as the master of capturing the beauty, majesty and drama of history and the natural world so you can expect unparalleled beauty, stunning scenes and a few surprises as you embark on the Turner trail.

1. Otley and the Wharfe Valley, Yorkshire

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The beautiful Wharfe Valley

Turner’s dramatic portrayal of Hannibal crossing the Alps has its origins in the unlikely setting of a snowstorm rolling in over the Chevin, a rocky bluff that crests over the pretty Yorkshire market town of Otley. The artist spent a lot of time painting at nearby Farnely Hall and was a good friend of the Ramsden Fawkes family who live there to this day. Visits to the hall are by invitation only so we would recommend a walk up the Chevin ridge to marvel at the stunning views of the Wharfe Valley that inspired Turner and prompted him to return and paint throughout his life.

2. The Needles, the Isle of Wight

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Yachts off the Isle of Wight

Turner’s first exhibited oil painting at the prestigious Royal Academy was Fishermen at Sea, a moonlit portrait of men working tirelessly against crashing waves whilst the Isle’s dramatic Needles rise up out of the murk in the distance. Visitors to the west coast of the Isle who have marvelled at the craggy Needles rising from Alum Bay won’t be surprised that Turner was so inspired by them. In fact, the artists found a lot more inspiration in and around the Isle with fantastic portraits of Cowes, yachts at the Regatta, Freshwater Bay, Carisbrooke Castle and more still exhibited to this day.

3. Margate and Kent

White cliffs of Dover

The Kent coast was another location Turner would return to throughout his life. The artist would hone his skills as a young boy capturing local landmarks in pen, ink and watercolour. In fact, it was here that Turner first saw the sea, a subject that, like Margate itself, would recur throughout his life. Margate’s Regency flourishes were irreparably damaged during World War II, so filmmakers had to recreate Turner’s time in Kent elsewhere. Today his life and times in Margate are celebrated at the Turner Contemporary Gallery, and you may still find a few of his subjects still standing and awaiting your admiration!

4. Wales

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Caernarfon Castle: one of Turner’s Welsh subjects

Turner seemed to have a particular affinity for Wales and the Welsh landscape. Growing up in London in the late 18th and early 19th century, he was immersed in the creative atmosphere of the Piazza at Coven Garden – a hub of artists’ studios. The work of one particular painter would have a formative effect on Turner, Welshman Richard Wilson. Turner set out on a pilgrimage to the artist’s homeland and there would fall in love with the history and large array of stunning topographical features set within a relatively close space. During Turner’s five visits to Wales he would capture castles, lakes, mountains, cliffs and coasts all with an unerring focus on the rich majesty and natural drama they contained – a feature still evidenced in the delightful Welsh landscape today.

5. Twickenham, Richmond upon Thames

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The Thames from Richmond Hill

Turner received formal training in architectural drawing in his early years, and allegedly wished to train as an architect if he had the chance to have his time again. The artist’s structural paintings are a good indicator of his affinity for architectural design, but perhaps his greatest achievement in the field is Sandycombe Lodge, the Turner House in Twickenham. The home was built to Turner’s specifications and would allow himself, and his father ‘Old William’ a refuge from the pressures of London. Sketchbooks at the Tate in London show Turner’s design extend to the plot surrounding the home, which his father would later spend his days tending to. Turner himself was keen on exploring the surrounding area taking boat rides on the Thames, walking the towpaths admiring the views and taking guests on picnics.

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