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Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851)

Turner entered the Royal Academy Schools aged fourteen. He worked as a topographical watercolourist, but from the mid-1790s, he also began to paint in oils. By attempting to paint Romantic subjects of disasters in extreme weather conditions, with historical and mythological themes, his intention was to show that landscape painting could convey the emotional range of subject or history painting. During the 1830s, Turner's painting became increasingly bold and free. He worked in jewel-like bright colours as well as luminous pale ones, with forms dissolving in what Constable described as 'tinted steam'.

Turner became Professor of Perspective at the Royal Academy in 1807, and Deputy President there in 1845. Perhaps his most famous painting is The Fighting Temeraire (1838, Clore Gallery, Tate), referred to by Turner as his 'darling'. Turner was his own greatest collector, even buying back works that he had previously sold.

After a squabble over his will in 1856, around 300 paintings and 19,000 drawings (including his sketchbooks and 'colur beginnings' in watercolour') were selected for the nation by John Ruskin, intended for the National Gallery, London. Turner had also requested that his works should be hung in a specially-built 'Turner's Gallery', but this was never realised. In 1897 however, the Tate Gallery opened and permanently housed this collection, Ruskin having first exhibited it around London. After a flood in 1928 however, the works on paper were moved to the Print Room of The British Museum where they stayed until the Clore Gallery (now in Tate Britain) was built to house them with the oils in 1987.

The British Museum however, still has one of the finest collections of Turner's finished watercolours. As well as nearly eighty magnificent unfaded examples, it also houses virtually the complete collection of prints after Turner, nearly 900 compositions.

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