"Turner asserts himself and this is one of his great merits. Another, and
greater one still, is that he always aspired to the best and greatest, and even
to his last hour, sought the realization of an ever-advancing ideal which led
him from day to day to greater heights. In this struggle after the
unattainable, he was upheld by his genius, but if he now and then gives way and
appears abstruse and incomprehensible to other minds, it is owing to one mistake
. . . Turner did not always study nature. In the rapture of his fervent
imagination he has sometimes disdained the truth."
"We have had, living amond us and painting for us, the greatest painter of all
time, a man with whose supremacy of power no intellect of past ages can be put
in comparison for a moment."
"J. M. W. Turner was the only man who was ever given an entire transcript of the
whole system of nature, and is, in this point of view, the only perfect
landscape painter whom the world has ever seen."
"The qualities of Turner's art are so varied and so great that there is some
danger, especially with the influence of Mr. Ruskin's eloquence and frequent use
of hyperbole, of a national idolatry of Turner, like the Roman idolatry of
Raphael or the French idolatry of Claude . . . .
"Turner's high special culture, his low general culture, were both causes of
isolation, for both knowledge and ignorance isolate us, each in its own way."
JOSEPH MALLORD WILLIAM TURNER
 MAIDEN LANE is a dingy street near Convent Garden in London. Though it may have
known better days when Voltaire lived there, and Andrew Marvel, great poet
though he was, was content to occupy an upper room overlooking its narrow
dinginess, at present it is prison-like in its gloom and slumlike in its
squalor. Near the west end of this forlorn street England's greatest landscape
painter, Joseph Mallord William Turner, was born on the 23rd of April, 1775.
He who was destined to paint sunlight like molten gold, clouds like fleece, and
skies like sapphire, first saw the day in a narrow London lane, beclouded by the
smoke and fog that hang like a pall over the dense city. This is a strange
circumstance, when, out of the thousands of little boys who have above them the
open scroll of the heavens, inscribed only with the story of
 the stars and the sun and moon., who wander all day over carpets of living turf,
among bird and squirrel-haunted trees, only rarely one develops into even a
commonplace landscape artist.
It seems a kind provision of nature and of God that so often those born into
poverty of natural surroundings are given natures by which they coin the very
riches they lack. We know how often men born far inland have given us poems and
pictures of the sea which those familiar with its various manifestations, have
never been able to transmit, or indeed had never cared to transmit to lovers of
There were other things besides the dreariness of the location that, on first
thought, seem detrimental to any ambition the child might have had toward art.
His father was a barber and hairdresser, with few refined notions and with a
Shylock propensity for saving which became his son's heritage in double measure.
He came originally from Devonshire and belonged to the peasant class. His shop
and home were all together in Maiden Lane, the shop on the ground floor, with
living rooms above and an inhabitable cellar below.
Indeed, some authorities say that the family spent much of their time in this
cellar, because it was more economical than to occupy the upper rooms. To us
who relegate our cellars to vegetables and furnaces this seems
noth-  ing short of death in life. We must remember, however, that he ground on which
London stands is almost honey-combed with human habitations, and in these
cellars thousands of the servant class spend their lives.
It is said that the elder Turner did a thriving business, for he was in the
immediate vicinity of some of the great theatres of London. The actors, very
naturally, sought out some place near by where their wigs could be
satisfactorily curled and powdered. We must remember, too, that at this time
wigs were not confined to the theatrical class. No man's wardrobe was
considered complete that did not contain at least three wigs, one for common
wear, one for state occasions, and one "for good," as we say. Turner's father
not only dressed these wigs but he sold them as well, and fifty pounds sterling
was the ordinary price for a first class peruke, or wig.
The little I have said of Turner's father would hardly lead one to covet him as
a parent and yet the relations of this father and son, as they later develop,
are the most admirable part of Turner's life story.
If the boy Turner seemed limited by the occupation and person of his father,
other great artists had been likewise deprived, for Tintoretto's father was a
dyer, and Andrea del Sarto's, a tailor. To my notion, however, Turner suffered
still more, than by heritage and
 in the surroundings of his childhood, from the personality of his mother. There
is a story to the effect that she belonged to a noble family of Nottinghamshire
and that the boy Turner went sometimes to visit his relatives there. The whole
story seems rather shadowy. Whatever its elements of truth or falsity, this we
do know, that Turner's mother in her early married life had an ungovernable
temper, probably the forerunner of that insanity which later made it necessary
to separate her from her family and confine her in a mad house where she finally
All his life Turner was morbidly sensitive on the subject of his mother's
insanity and the least reference to her he resented as an insult. I know no
greater deprivation that a boy, destined either to fame or to obscurity, could
suffer than this—to live in terror of the mention of his mother's name.
You will agree with me, I am sure, when you recall the great army of boys who
have been saved from worthless lives, to bless the world, all through the holy
influence of a good, a prayerful, a long-suffering mother.
As we study Turner's life further and are repelled by its unlovely features,
even while we adore his pictures, we must bear in mind that from his childhood
and youth was eliminated the most potent influence for good in a boy's formative
years, the love and watchful care
 of a mother. Remembering this, we should soften our judgment accordingly.
Many things we see lacking, then, in the boy's early surroundings and many to
deplore. Perhaps there was slight compensation in the fact that a society of
artists occupied a building opposite the Turner home and that the boy must often
have listened to the talk of distinguished men who came to his father's shop.
Slight though these circumstances were, yet they may have opened to the budding
mind of the young boy dim vistas in the world outside his father's shop.
One incident of Turner's childhood is always repeated and it is valuable in that
it shows how susceptible the boy was even to slight influences: One day the
elder Turner had occasion to go to the elegant home of a Mr. Tomkinson to attend
to some hairdressing matters. The father took with him his little son, then
only seven years old. We can imagine him running along by his father's side
that April morning, talking of the things boys will talk about—possibly of
the boats that jostled each other on the black waters of the Thames, or of
Lambeth Palace and the Parliament Houses opposite. At last they are ushered into
the stately house and the boy sits looking shyly about while his father curls
and powders and otherwise does the office of a hairdresser.
 We can guess that the homeward walk was more silent than that of the morning,
for the father was fatigued and the boy, from what followed, was doubtless
revolving in his mind an image he had caught while waiting for his father to
finish his work with Mr. Tomkinson. The evening he probably spent in his own
little room while his parents wondered what occupied his small mind, if indeed
they missed him at all.
Early the next morning he showed them triumphantly the drawing of a rampant
lion, a copy of one that the child had seen the day before on a server in Mr.
Tomkinson's dining room. The father was delighted and at once set it down in
his seemingly obtuse mind that "Billy is going to be an artist." With evident
delight he showed the drawing to his customers, and so began that pride in his
son's work which became a passion with him, lasting to his latest hour.
Unlettered though William Turner was, this pride in his boy's art went hand in
hand with the desire to give him all possible opportunity for education. For
this decision, for reasons deeper than he could himself explain, we ought to
give him unstinted praise. While many another, not from ignorance but from
perverseness, might have curbed a tendency so foreign to his own station in
life, our artist's father spared no pains,
 either in giving praise or opportunity, to develop the apparent bent of his
At the age of ten, he was sent to Brentford to school. While here he lived with
a butcher, the brother of Turner's mother. Brentford is seventeen miles
northeast of London, on the Thames. In Turner's boyhood it was a place of fine
open fields, filled with wild flowers, and overhead was a sky free from smoke or
fog. It must have seemed like Paradise itself to a boy who had never before
seen more of the country than the suburbs of London. Of his devotion to his
studies we cannot say much. There is evidence that his companions often solved
the stubborn problems submitted to him while he spent his time drawing objects
and scenes that attracted him.
After a while the father came for his boy and took him back to the soil and moil
of London. Whatever else he acquired or did not acquire in the school at
Brentford, we feel certain that here began that knowledge of the classic myths
which served the painter so well in the great days of his art.
We do not know whether his barber father was awed by the mysterious learning
which his son brought back with him, but we do know that the youth was shortly
put to school again, this time in Soho Academy, near by where he continued the
education already fairly begun at Brentford.
 We next find him in school at Margate, a fine seaport town almost at the extreme
northeastern part of Kent. He grew very fond of Kent and its hop fields and
there is reason to believe that he would have been proud to claim it as his
We have noted regretfully some of the points in Turner's childhood which could
not help him in the career of an artist. In contrast with these points we ought
to emphasize the value of his residence both at Brentford and at Margate. It
matters little whether his study of books prospered or not. The preparation
that came from the things of nature about him in these places was more helpful
than all the books. At one place rich fields gave to him ungrudgingly of their
imperishable produce, eternal beauty; at the other that hoary giant, the
ever-changing, the all-powerful, the ceaseless-sounding ocean, filled his artist
soul with images which in later years he yielded to the hungry gaze of lovers of
With the record of three good schools to fall back upon, we can hardly consider
Turner a self-educated man even though his school training ceased at the early
age of thirteen. On his return to London he studied drawing with the popular
Paul Sandby, and was greatly helped, not only by the lessons, but by the
drawings of his master. He had vacations when he visited his
 father's people in Bristol, his butcher uncle at Brentford and his friends at
Margate, so we see his life, although fully occupied, was not all work.
In the barber shop window there appeared from time to time copies of popular
pictures done by the young Maiden Lane artist. If we could have happened by in
those days we might have bought one of these now precious copies, for two, or at
most, three shillings.
The boy had heard much talk of the great Reynolds and Gainsboro who lived only a
few blocks away, and he must have felt it a privilege when things were arranged
so that he could copy in Reynolds' studio some of that painter's greatest
portraits. The pleasure and the profit were cut short, however, by the death of
the aged and infirm painter. It must have been a pleasant thing for Turner to
recall in after years that he had once associated, even in the unequal manner of
student and master, with the courtly Reynolds.
I wonder too if Reynolds, as he "shifted his trumpet and took snuff," ever
allowed his imagination to outrun the years and picture the stripling painting
there so diligently as the greatest landscape-painter of England, or, if he did
so, did he consider it much honor, this popular portrait and figure painter?
However that may be, we always love to contemplate the proximity of geniuses,
 especially when the secret of the greatness of any one ofthem is yet folded
within the budding years.
At the age of fourteen we find Turner a regular student at the Royal Academy.
His first sketches were views about Lambeth Palace, some of which were exhibited
in 1790 and attracted considerable attention.
To this period of his life belongs a sorrow and a disappointment which
undoubtedly influenced his life almost as unfavorably as the fact of his
mother's unnatural temper and later insanity. While visiting a school mate at
Margate he fell deeply in love with a sister of his friend. Things seemed
bright for the young couple and they parted expecting to see each other shortly.
Turner wrote regularly, but the young lady received none of his letters. After
two years she, therefore, accepted a lover her father had selected for her.
One day Turner appeared suddenly and explained how he had been off on his
sketching tours and that he had written to her very often, but that he had never
received a rely. It was found that the letters had been intercepted and the two
lives were practically wrecked by this wicked interference. The girl married an
old man whom she did not love and it certainly takes little discernment to see
that the private life of the painter would have been quite different had he had
a home, wife and children.
 Turner's sketching tours were an important part of his art career. To such an
extent were they carried that he knew almost by heart the whole of England, for
who can know the features of a country so well as he who tramps over it on foot
and looks about him with a view to reproducing what he sees? His first
expeditions of this sort were into Wales and the west of England. Shortly
afterwards he travelled in Kent, Straffordshire, Derbyshire and Cheshire. Later
he went into the beautiful north of England where his snese of color and form
was satisfied within a very small territory, for distances in England are
TEMPLE OF JUPITER
The drawings he made in these various sections were engraved at once and
published in sets which sold readily, as we can easily see from the rapidity
with which the commissions poured in upon him from great engraving firms. In
the course of these engraving tours he drew almost every cathedral in England.
In this we see the beginning of his taste for introducing architectural details
which, in his later paintings, is so evident. He began by making almost
photographic reproductions of the buildings that pleased his fancy and he ended
by bringing in bits of architecture which had existence only in the
poetry-charged brain of their inventor. Such is genius in most cases. It
begins cautiously, groping its
 way, trying its power by copying and then, after a time, it soars away,
strong-winged and confident, into those realms to which it only has the key.
Then we proclaim, and rightly too, that an original genius has appeared among
On some of his sketching expeditions he had a charming companion, Tom Girtin, a
wonderful watercolor artist who, if he had lived, would undoubtedly have been a
formidable rival to Turner. So fond were they of each other, however, that we
can hardly imagine this rivalry to have been other than friendly. Turner once
exclaimed as he was admiring some of Girtin's drawings, "I never in my whole
life could make a drawing like that; I would at any time have given one of my
little fingers to have made such a one!" The association of Turner with Girtin
must certainly be ranked with the privileges of his life, for the latter was
pure in morals and elegant and refined in manners.
Another of the benign influences in Turner's life was the opportunity he enjoyed
in Dr. Monroe's fine house on Adelphi Terrace. Dr. Monroe was a wealthy man,
exceedingly fond of art. He collected pictures and prints until his house was
little short of a museum. It is said that his attention was first attracted to
Turner by noticing some of the little copies in the dingy shop window in Maiden
 At all events, this generous patron of the arts invited Turner and his young
friend Girtin to come once a week and have supper at his house and then copy
pictures which he had in his collection. Dr. Monroe gave them half a crown each
for their copies. The emoney seems small, and yet we know that at this time
even so small a sum was worth considering to Turner. Even counting this as
naught, there was rich compensation in the chance to study the good Doctor's
collection, in the influence of a refined home and in association with his
friend Girtin. Turner never forgot Dr. Monroe's kindness and always in later
life he referred to him affectionately.
It is evident, too, that Monroe kept his eye on his young protégé, for we
know that he bought whole volumes of Turner's sketches both of home and foreign
scenery. He reaped a substantial reward, too, when the artist had become famous
by selling the copies for which he had expended a supper and a half crown, at
three and four guineas each. Whatever pecuniary compensation the patron
received, we feel sure that it was kind heart and a love of art that prompted
Dr. Monroe to open so freely the door of his home and of his art treasures to
two young struggling painters.
In 1795, Turner made his first picture in oil colors and he was pleased with his
new venture. The year
 following he removed to rooms of his own not far from Maiden Lane. He had
already achieved considerable success as a drawing teacher and in his new
quarters he executed several of his important works, representing usually
buildings and scenes from southern England.
The year following must have been a happy one for Turner, for this was the year
of his sketching tour in Yorkshire, the banner county of England for scenery and
for beautiful architectural remains. There are other sections of England
attractive for one reason or another, but in Yorkshire we have them all united.
Here is the ecclesiastical architecture of Lincolnshire and occasionally its
dreary waste of fen and moorland; the castles of the south guarding the chalk
cliffs of Albion are beautiful indeed, but they fade into insignificance when we
recall Whitby or the vistas of Fountains Abbey.
The fertile stretches of the Thames or the hop-trellised fields of Kent even
find their prototypes in Yorkshire fields. Better than all, however, to a mind
of Turner's cast must have seemed the mountains with their "forces," their
cataracts and their picturesque lakes. We can even imagine that in this
wonderful diversity of the "north countree" Turner found his genius, or rather
that which developed his genius to the supreme point, which richness of
imagination adds its crowning touch. What a wonderland it is! And how master
 hung like parasites to its hills and vales, its lakes and its border wastes of
The mere mention of the region brings to our minds names of magic such as
Wordsworth, Coleridge, Martineau, Arnold and Ruskin. We may rightly add the
name of Turner to this distinguished list, for he too looked toward the hills
"from whence cometh our help."
In 1799, Turner was elected Associate of the Royal Academy. His diploma picture
was "Dolbadera Castle" in North Wales. As compared with his later work,
there seems little to indicate that richness of color and that abundance of
sunlight which became his chief characteristic at the maturity of his powers.
It is largely brown in its effect and therefore sombre.
Turner was now advancing rapidly in professional honors. In 1802 he ceased to
be plain "W. Turner, A." and became "JOSEPH MALLORD WILLIAM TURNER, R. A., that
is, in that year he was made a member of the Academy, where he had studied and
where he had already exhibited for ten years.
It is an interesting fact that out of the sixty years of Turner's connection
with the Royal Academy he missed exhibiting only four times. It gives us some
notion of his infinite industry when we know that he exhibited in all nearly
three hundred pictures. Hamerton, who, I believe, is the fairest writer on
Turner, says that it would
 take an industrious man a hundred years simply to copy Turner's paintings and
drawings, to say nothing of the time usually consumed in their invention or
Of the collection of drawings in the National Gallery there were many rolls
containing in all nineteen thousand sheets, many of which contain several
drawings. In view of this prodigious amount of work, it is little to be
wondered at that those who defend Turner's character claim in excuse for his
many short-comings that he was too busy, too engrossed with his art, to have any
regard for the amenities of life. Perhaps those thousands of tiny sketches of
sky and cloud and mountain were the very stepping-stones by which he rose to the
supreme heights where he floods the world at once with poetry and with light.
We must then take the life as we find it—search diligently for the good it
contains and eschew the bad which, unfortunately, is so prominent.
About this time he made his first Continental tour, which took him into France
and Switzerland. Of the many pictures which resulted from this trip "Calais
Pier" and "Macon Vintage" are perhaps the best known. He was fast
drifting away from the photographic style that had marked his earlier sketches.
He visited places and studied them, but he brought back no
 accurate reproduction of them. From his sea voyage, he simply knew better the
moods of "gray old ocean," and from the lordly heights of the Alps his soul took
in more deeply, more truly, the spirit of the mountains which, in some future
picture, would pour itself out to the delight and edification of all who looked
upon its inspired representations.
On his return from the Continent, he stood on an elevated point in his career.
Though not fully appreciated, perhaps, in his loftiest flights into the regions
of ideal beauty, yet there was degree of appreciation very satisfactory to the
artist, whose dearest thought in life was the maintenance and preservation of
his own fame.
He was a member of the Royal Academy and yearly his exhibits were looked forward
to as those of a growing genius; he was defended, even in his faults, by John
Ruskin, England's most distinguished art critic, until it became a saying,
"There is but one artist and Ruskin is his prophet."
There was one corner, however, where Fortune seemed to withold her smile. The
barber shop in Maiden Lane was losing its patronage and a heavy tax had been
imposed upon powder and wigs. The son saw the falling off in custom and the
consequent discouragement of his father and so he took him home to the larger
house where he now lived on Haley Street. There seemed to
 be none of the covert shame which a person elevated to a lofty place among his
fellows often shows in his treatment of humble relatives. On the contrary, for
the twenty-seven years of their life together in the son's house, there never
seems to have been a break in their affection. To be sure, the father made of
himself a willing slave, looking after every want of his gifted son from the
stretching and varnishing of his canvasses, to the cooking of his meals at
Before we criticise too severely the painter for allowing such unremitting
service from an aged parent, we must recall how active the elder Turner had
always been and how sweet to his economical soul was the privilege of saving a
penny whether there was need of it or not. These very characteristics of the
father in his younger days undoubtedly made what to us appears hardship to be
the deepest pleasure he could have in these his days of apparent dependence. In
1830, he died and was buried in St. Paul's Church, Covent Garden, and to his
memory his son erected a modest monument.
In the study of biography one of its most interesting features often is the
contest of rivalry of the hero with another aspiring to the same honors.
Generally we suppose this rival to be a living man or woman. In the life of
Turner we have the strange anomaly of a living hero putting all his strength
into a contest with the dead.
 One hundred seventy-five years before Turner was born, there appeared in France
an artist whose name has been, through all the years, a synonym for lightness
and repose, Claude Lorraine. Like most geniuses he had doubtless been too much
praised and, in the hands of Ruskin, he has certainly been too much blamed.
Whatever the critics say, however, the present day visitor to great galleries
loves to meet with one of Claude's pictures and he stands rapt before its serene
MERCURY AND ARGUS
Turner early saw this popular idolatry of the French master and quite as early
determined to rival him. Indeed it is not too much to say that he spent
two-thirds of his life trying to make picture-loving people believe that he was
greater than the immortal Claude. There is a pathetic side to the contest, for
even after this mighty struggle it is still an open question whether Turner or
Claude is the greater landscape artist.
We do not have to go to books for the story of this contest. Any visitor to the
National Gallery in London will see two pictures by Turner, "Dido Building
Carthage" and "Sun Rising through a Vapor," hung between two of
Claude's finest paintings. It was only on this condition that Turner bequeathed
these two pictures to the Nation, that they should always hang between the
Claudes to convince posterity of his superiority.
DIDO BUILDING CARTHAGE
 This rivalry which had in it, on Turner's part, all the animus that could be
brought into a contest between two living artists, was further attested to by
Turner's "Liber Studiorum," or "Book of Studies." It seems that
in Claude's lifetime, when he was painting many pictures, he had made, for his
own convenience and as a help in identifying disputed pictures—a sort of
memoranda of each of the pictures he had disposed of—a little book of
sketches. Of course this was never intended for the public any more than a
merchant's account books. To this book he gave the name of "Liber
Veritatis," or "Book of Truth." It is now owned by the Duke of
Devonshire, and it is a most valuable art relic.
Turner saw the book and at once made up his mind to do something in the same
line, which would be superior to Claude's work, and so came about "Liber
Studiorum," which, unlike Claude's book, was especially intended for
publication. The plan was never fully carried out and but seventy-one sketches
were published. At the last, so little did people care for the numbers, that
they were used for lighting the fire. Years later, some of these wilful
destroyers awakened to the fact that they had been burning bank notes, so
valuable did the prints become when the "Turner fever" was at its height. A
good copy of the entire work is now worth
 a fortune and some of the single plates have brought as high as twenty pounds.
The first number of this work appeared in 1807, and its publication was
continued at intervals until 1816.
In 1808, Turner became Professor of Perspective (P. P.) in the Academy, a
position which it was impossible for him to fill satisfactorily on account of
his lack of power in the use of English, and here, of all places, there was need
of the clearest speech to make the explanations of service to students. One can
readily understand that the lectures of such a bungler in the use of English
were far from clear. Turner must have appreciated this himself, for, on the
slightest pretext, an appointed lecture would be abandoned for some other work.
He did not fail in this because of lack of effort. His diagrams were elaborate
and accurate. He simply lacked the power of expression.
The tradesmen of England were the ones who patronized the great landscape
painter and appreciated him. Lord Egremont of Petworth, Sussex, however, was an
exception among the noblemen of his time, and he opened his home and his heart
to Turner. At the seat of this nobleman the painter spent much time, occupying
himself very early in the day with painting and then later giving himself up to
the pleasures of the rod, the one sport of which he was very fond. After the
 of the Earl he never visited Petworth and he could not speak of his friend
All these years important pictures were coming from his brush.
"Trafalgar," " "Dewy Morning,"
"Somer Hill," are but a few of the names that appear in the Academy
In 1812, Turner's means had become abundant and some of it he expended in
fitting up for himself the house in Queen Anne Street so intimately connected
with his name and fame. Here he had a studio to paint in and a gallery in which
to display his pictures. Leslie, who knew the place for forty years, says that
never in all that time was any repairing done, neither touch of paint nor
renewal of paper on the walls. That love of color which leads so many artists
to surround themselves with all sorts of Oriental stuffs and curious
bric-a-brac never showed itself in such manner in Turner. It seemed, on
the other hand, that he delighted in dirt and untidiness even when cleanliness
and order would have served him better.
From this time, too, he indulged in the luxury of two homes and kept it up until
his death. In 1813, he built himself a villa at Twickenham, on the Thames, a
quiet spot already made famous by Pope's residence there. Here he kept a boat
and a pony to carry him on his shorter sketching tours. For thirteen year he
 kept this villa and spent some time here each season. Here Chantrey, the noted
English sculptor, always a warm friend of Turner's, visited him and shared with
him the delights of fishing. On one of his visits Chantrey carved out of marble
an exquisite group which is still to be seen above the mantel in one of Turner's
We have not arrived at the period of Turner's great pictures. Ruskin very
wisely divides the painter's productive period into three epochs, the first from
1800 to 1820, the second from 1820 to 1835, and the last from 1835 to 1845. In
this arrangement Turner's great critic cuts out the artist's earliest and latest
The picture which marks the transition from Turner's earlier style to that of
his maturity is the one called "Crossing the Brook." This is a very
beautiful painting of Devonshire scenery, and thoug it lacks the depth of color
so noticeable in his later works, there is a distance in it that never
afterwards excelled, and this wonderful representation of far-away stretches of
land or sea was a point in which he stood alone among English artists.
In the picture of "Dido Building Carthage" we have a conglomeration of
classical architecture as if the artist considered this the real theme of his
painting. He thought very highly indeed of this canvas. For many years he
maintained that he wished to be buried
 wrapped in this picture. His friend, George Jones, promised that he would carry
out the painter's wish in this matter but, he added facetiously, "I'll take
pains to see that you are shortly dug up and unrolled." Turner refused many
offers for the picture and, as mentioned above, it is one of the paintings
destined to challenge Claude's work through all the years in the National
The picture is very beautiful notwithstanding the over crowding of architectural
details, for in it are many of the artist's strongest points, wonderful
distance, and sunlight in a glorious flood transmuting the water into molten
gold. It is rather interesting that an artist who could not master a common
English sentence, who never knew a foreign language and who really had not the
capacity for acquiring one, should have so often selected classical subjects.
In 1819, Turner made his first visit to Italy. The next year he exhibited a
picture, "Rome from the Vatican," which is not highly praised by the
critics. Nine years later we find him again in the land of sunlight and of
artists. At this time he painted one of his most characteristic pictures,
"Ulysses Deriding Polyphemus." Of this striking picture Hamerton says,
"The impression which it makes as a whole is an impression of extraordinary
splendor and power."
 Two years later, in 1830, Turner's father died and the artist made his second
visit to Scotland. He had formerly made sketches, in conjunction with Sir
Walter Scott, for a work called "Provincial Antiquities of Scotland."
This time he went to Scotland to make twenty-four illustrations for Scott's
poetical works, for Cadill, the Edinburgh publisher.
Since the first association of the poet and painter, Scott had become a saddened
man, borne down by dept and bereft by death of his wife, "his thirty years
companion." Scott and Lockhart went with Turner to many of the places he wished
to draw, but when they came to Dryborough, Scott excused himself from entering,
perhaps realizing even then that shortly he would be brought there to go away no
Turner's work was so satisfactory to Cadill that he was at once commissioned to
make drawings to illustrate Scott's prose works. As we have before indicated,
Turner was now beyond the photographic period of his art, and in this Scotch
work everything is idealized, though there is still the portrait germ that
enables us to recognize the scene or building.
"Rivers of France" is a great work, the product of three seasons of
touring in France. There were sixty plates and only a very few of them are
without architectural detail, more or less elaborate. Here is a
 chateau, there a cathedral, and in others are bridges or the shipping to be
found in seaport towns. Accuracy in representing places is often lacking in
these sketches, but for the loss of this dull lead of reality the gap is filled
in with the glittering gold of poetry. In his painting Turner does what Scott,
Wordsworth or Milton did in their poetry and for which they have the eternal
gratitude of their readers.
"Childe Harold's Pilgrimmage" appeared in 1832, in illustration of these
lines from Byron, —
"And now fair Italy!
Thou art the garden of the world, the home
Of all art yields, and nature can decree,
Even in thy desert, what is like to thee?
Thy very weeds are beautiful, thy waste
More rich than other climes fertility;
Thy wreck a glory, and thy ruin graced
With an immaculate charm which cannot be defaced."
In this work Turner set himself a hard task, for he wished to represent a sort
of summary of Italian scenery. It is an attractive picture, but is fast
perishing, owing to the artist's disregard for the rules for using oil-colors.
Hamerton says, "We can only enjoy it with that melancholy pleasure that we take
in spoiled and ruined things which have once been ineffably exquisite."
 Turner's Venice pictures are among the most interesting of all his works. The
splendid island city which excels all others in its color must have been
attractive indeed to one with Turner's inclinations. "A city of rose and white
rising out of an emerald sea, against a sky of sapphire," must have appealed to
the artist as a subject ready-made. That he really enjoyed this subject is
evident from the fact that he did not stop this series until it numbered eleven
pictures. Perhaps the most beautiful of them all were "The Approach to
Venice" and "The Sun of Venice Going to Sea."
There is little doubt that the greatest of Turner's pictures is "Old
Temeraire," or, as it was listed in the Academy catalogue of 1839, "The
fighting Temeraire tugged to her last berth to be broken up, 1838.
'The flag which braved the battle and the breeze
No longer owns her.' "
THE OLD TEMERAIRE
Everyone knows that the Temeraire was Nelson's flag-ship and this fact
alone would make the picture of deep interest to Englishmen. The ship itself is
of the good old style, beautiful and majestic, though lacking many of the
conveniences of the modern war-ship, but our sentiment gains full possession of
us as we note in this scene not only the passing of a famous warship, but the
passing, too, of an era in naval warfare. How
 majestically she moves and how we venerate her out there on the placid sun-lit
waters! How trivial, even saucy, seems the snorting tug as it pulls along to
its final dissolution this hero of Trafalgar! The sun shows blood-red through a
film of clouds but not all the gold of Ophir could make it other than a scene
DEATH OF NELSON
A poem on canvas this surely is and we contemplate it with thrilling hearts,
recalling anew the glorious figure of Nelson. Thornbury writes thus of this
great picture: — "As a picture it is the most glorious consummation of coloring
ever painted by English fingers, or seen by English eyes. In exquisite
transparency it surpasses water-colors, in strength and purity it transcends
oils. It is the noblest English poem founded on English scenery and English
events ever thrown on canvas."
During the last ten years of Turner's life he seemed to intoxicated with his own
success that he forgot all rules and painted some strange pictures out of whose
wild confusion it is difficult to bring connected ideas. There are so many of
his pictures that are worth remembering for their grand qualities that it is
hardly worth while to dwell upon these later ones, which certainly grew out of a
diseased mind and a shattered life.
Even in this work of his later years he seemed fired
 with a purpose to represent truth. In "The Snow Storm," in which he
represented a ship in distress off harbor-mouth, this is noticeable. He had
been in just such a storm and in his desire to see exactly what it was like, he
asked the sailors to lash him to the mast that he might the better observe it.
Here he remained for four hours, much of the time not expecting to escape
ship-wreck. When the picture appeared it gave the critics a fine opportunity to
rave. They spoke of it as "soapsuds and whitewash" and seemed to like the sound
of the phrase, for it soon became current coin among them.
The artist was hurt deeply by the criticism. Referring to it, Ruskin tells this
anecdote: "He was passing the evening at my father's house on the day this
criticism came out; after dinner, sitting in the arm-chair, I heard him
muttering low to himself at intervals, 'Soap-suds and whitewash!' again and
again and again. At last I went to him asking why he minded what they said.
They he burst out: 'Soapsuds and whitewash! What would they have? I wonder what
they think the sea is like! I wish they'd been in it!' "
"The Slave Ship" belonged to this later period too. It was bought by an
American and may be seen in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. "The Wreck of
the Minotaur" is a picture of the same general character.
WRECK OF THE MINOTAUR
 In 1842, he painted "Peace: Burial at Sea," in remembrance of Wilkie, and
a wonderful picture it is, as solemn and sad as if it were painted on crape.
Reference has been made to Turner's intense desire for fame and his jealousy of
anything derogatory to that fame. Perhaps at no time did he show this more than
on "varnishing days" at the Academy. "Varnishing days" are those just before an
exhibit opens in which the artists "touch up" their pictures and varnish them.
Turner frequently accomplished wonders with a few, apparently random, strokes
after his pictures were in place, and he often resorted to tricks to get the
desired effect. One day he came in and found one of his pictures short of red
in the foreground. Not having time to put in the required work on the canvas he
demanded of the Committee that the seats immediately in front should be covered
anew, he to choose the color and material. We do not need to be told that he
selected red and thus gained his point without changing his picture.
At another time he gained the same result by affixing a great red seal to his
picture. Certainly in fifty-six years of exhibiting he must have found ample
opportunity for such tricks. Speaking of his effects reminds us that a very
remarkable thing in Turner's method was that he usually painted with a short
brush, with his face very
 near the canvas. He knew his art so well that he was perfectly sure what the
effect would be.
It is better to study Turner's pictures than his life, for there never were,
perhaps, in one man such contrary qualities. Before Thornbury wrote his
extensive life of Turner he wrote to Mr. Ruskin to ask him if he did not
contemplate writing the life of Turner. Ruskin replied that he had no notion of
writing the biography and he added this suggestion: "Fix at the beginning the
following characteristics of Turner in your mind, as the keys to the secret of
all he said and did: Uprightness, generosity, tenderness of heart, obstinacy,
irritability, infidelity. And be sure that he knew his own power, and felt
himself utterly alone in the world. Do not try to mask the dark side." . . .
It is indeed a list of qualities impossible to consolidate into other than a
detestable character and yet in the list there are good qualities. A Thames
ferryman was told one day that the man he so often rowed across the river was a
very great man. He retorted that he would not believe it of a man who always
took a bottle of gin with him for inspiration and never gave him any.
He lived in dirt in his great house in Queen Anne street, his greatest pleasure
there the petting of his tailless Manx cats. After his father's death, he had a
housekeep, Mrs. Danby, who did her best to keep him
 neat, but the carousals in which he indulged from Saturday night until Monday
morning spoiled all her efforts.
Men have come to his galleries and paid large sums for his pictures, but, fond
as he was of the shining guinea, he seldom extended to his most generous
customer common courtesy. Once he delivered personally one of his highest
priced pictures. When paid, he hesitated in such a way that the patron said,
"It is not all right?" To which Turner responded that it was, except for the
two shillings he spent for the hackney coach that brought him. Opposed to this
grasping, we have instances, but I believe they are rare, when he bestowed small
gratuities, and we know that he scrimped and pinched all his life long to save a
fortune with which to found a home for unsuccessful male artists.
It had been a custom of Turner's to secrete himself for weeks at a time so that
his best friends knew not where he was. In December, 1851, his housekeeper
missed him, and, after some rummaging, found a doubtful address, which somehow
she felt was the place of his hiding. Feeling sure that he must be ill, she
sought out the house, which proved to be a humble cottage on the Thames in
Chelsea. Here she found her master, and ill, as she had surmised. It seems he
had had lodgings here for some time, where he had often gone of
 late. In the neighborhood he was known as "Admiral Boothe," for it was a
popular notion that he was an old soldier. Turner had been sick for some time
and so serious was his condition that he could not be moved to his own home; the
day after Mrs. Danby found him, he died.
REGULUS LEAVING ROME
No sadder death bed can be imagined than this. What a moving thing it was! The
greatest landscape-painter of England dying there in that wrecked hovel beside
the river, under an assumed name, with the sunlight which he loved so much
barely struggling in through broken and smoky little panes of glass. There were
none near who loved him and he had no religious faith to give him courage for
the "great change." In his last bitter hour, if there was a thought of triumph
in his heart, it must have been this: "Here the great Turner lies dying and his
best friends do not know of his whereabouts." Small cause indeed for
gratulation, and so that life of leaden ore with its veins of gold became a
darkness indeed. Then followed a funeral as pompous as the death had been
obscure, and he was buried, according to his request, in the crypt of St. Paul's
After the funeral came the will of the man who had been known to be wealthy,
although he lived in little better style than a mendicant. How this eccentric,
 taciturn man had disposed of a fortune equivalent to $700,000 was very naturally
a matter of general interest. It was found that everything had been given to
the nation except for a small bequests. Out of this money a home for
unsuccessful artist was to be erected and named Turner's Gift.
He had written his own will, however, probably to save an attorney's fee, and so
awkwardly had he expressed himself that the document would not stand the legal
tests, and so the very object he wished to attain was defeated. His family
easily broke the will and, after four years of litigation, it was settled that
all his works, finished and unfinished, should go to the state, while his
engravings and other property should go to his nearest of kin. The provision of
the will by which£1000 was to be used for a monument to himself in St.
Paul's crypt was carried out, but of course the home for unsuccessful artists
was never built. It is a strong illustration of how a man's small qualities
carry the day while his great philanthropic notions stand in abeyance — the
defeat of a man by his own pettiness.
The pictures which he gave to the nation, except the two between the Claudes,
are kept in a room by themselves in the National Gallery, London. Here one may
study at his leisure Turner's art from its beginning-days to the
"Whirlwind-time," when in his impetuosity he
 forgot all rules and dashed his paint upon the canvas without design, and then
gave the melee some unintelligible name. There, too, hangs the palette
used by the painter and one naturally speaks low and thinks strange thoughts as
he stands before this little sheet of wood from which Turner coined the sunlight
which is the greatest glory of his pictures.