Surpassing all other British painters of his own and succeeding generations, J. M. W. Turner, son of a London barber, and sacked from an architect’s office for failing to grasp the laws of perspective, who possessed a technical skill so wide and subtle that its range led him into realms which other painters would not explore until half a century after his death.
He possessed both the intellect and humanity to make these realms accessible to laypeople in a way which eluded these later generations of artists.
Turner’s working life bridged the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, his work contained throughout symbolism and allegory and subjects founded firmly in 18thC, his work encloses the period when landscape painting rose to concern the leading painters of the age.
Turner was a Romantic with a broad sense of humour which softened the edge of his pessimism.
although he lived through a period of social and technological revolution, he revealed little or none of the hostility to technical innovation displayed by his greatest champion and apologist, John Ruskin.
His belief: all material things constantly changed, the basis and hte meaning of life did not, so the concept of progress was an illusion. As a result, he felt no threat from the changes around him, while his understanding, sympathy and amusement at the behaviour of his fellow beings gave his pictures a breathe and humanity where people of less perception, but more conviction, would have dealt in slogans.
Turner rarely placed human figures in the outline drawings, and his sketched studies of human appearance were executed quite separately.
Yet people or the creations of people were absolutely central to Turner’s landscape in his wide series of pictures of Britain. He integrate them into the stucture of finished picture to give it meaning and wiser purpose.
Turner used the physical appearance of his human figures as a metaphor for their mental and social state. He never pictured them in a precise, naturalistic way but usually as rounded, almost doll-like shapes, burdened or ebullient, gaudily dressed or dowdy with poverty or distress.