The "painter of light" J.M.W. Turner

"I did not paint... to be understood. I wished to show what such a scene was like." (J.M.W. Turner)

23 April 1775, J.M.W. Turner, the "painter of light" was born in London. Or, at least, he chose April 23rd to be his birthday, it's St George's Day after the Julian calendar and Shakespeare's alleged date of birth as well.

"A First Rate Taking In Stores" (pencil and watercolour, 1818) - one of the lesser known of Turner's works. Asked by his host Walter Fawkes of Farnley Hall in Yorkshire, far from the sea: "Give me some idea of the size of a man-of-war", Turner went at it with a vengeance: "The idea hit Turner's fancy, for with a chuckle he said to Walter Fawkes's eldest son, then a boy of about fifteen, 'Come along Hawkey and we will see what we can do for Papa' and the boy sat by his side the whole morning and witnessed the evolution of 'The First-Rate Taking in Stores.' His description of the way Turner went to work was very extraordinary; he began by pouring wet paint onto the paper till it was saturated, he tore, he scratched, he scrubbed at it in a kind of frenzy and the whole thing was chaos — but gradually and as if by magic the lovely ship, with all its exquisite minutia, came into being and by luncheon time the drawing was taken down in triumph." (quoted after the "Washington Post", December 2nd, 2007)

Controversial in his day, illustrated with observant comments from contemporary art critics, whose hearts were obviously set on the traditional paintings of the squirearchy and Thoroughbreds, like "the sea looks like soap and chalk" (Calais Pier, 1842), "eggs and spinach" and "painting with a mob and bucket", Turner turned out to be a bridge between traditional and modern art, creating an oeuvre that is unique.

And be it the cataract, he allegedly suffered from, or the eruption of a volcano, that tinted light different in the early 1800s, it took a genius to dissolve shape into light, be it a landscape, a locomotive or a ship. Thus Turner and his work mark the turning point towards Impressionism and the 20th century's abstract art. And still, after 200 years, not many equalled, let alone surpassed him.

A wonderful monographic show of Turner's works can be found online on:

And more about Turner on: