Fig 73 Fig. 73.—Portrait of Turner.

Joseph M. W. Turner, R.A. (1775-1851).—It is believed, by those who have investigated the question most carefully, that this eminent artist and most remarkable man was born in Maiden Lane, London, April 3, 1775, although the artist himself has stated that he was born in Devonshire, April 23, 1769. Turner’s father, William Turner, was a native of Devonshire, but came to London while young, and did a fair business in the Covent Garden district as a hair-dresser, wig-maker, and in shaving people. The father was garrulous, like the traditional hair-dresser, with a pleasant laugh, and a fresh, smiling face. He had a parrot nose and a projecting chin. Turner’s mother was a Miss Mallord (or Marshall), of good family, but a violent-tempered woman, with a hawk nose and a fierce visage. Her life ended in a lunatic asylum. The artist, who was always impatient of inquiry into his domestic matters, resented any allusion to his mother, and never spoke of her. The manifest peculiarities of his parents had an impression upon Turner, and would have made him eccentric had there been no other influences of a kindred nature. The parents were under-sized, and of limited mental range; they were of very little personal assistance to their gifted son, although the father in later years busied himself in mixing colors, adjusting pictures to frames, and sometimes he was entrusted with certain rough work at filling in backgrounds. When Turner was but five years old he is said to have made, from memory, a fair copy of a lion rampant engraved on a silver salver, which he had seen while accompanying his father to the house of a customer. Presently the boy began to copy pictures in water-colors, and then to make sketches from nature of scenes along the river Thames. In his ninth year he drew a picture of Margate Church. When he was ten years old he was sent to school at Brentford-Butts, where he remained two years, boarding with his uncle, the local butcher. His leisure hours were spent in dreamy wanderings and in making countless sketches of birds, trees, flowers, and domestic fowls. He acquired a smattering of the classics and some knowledge of legends and ancient history. On his return to London he received instruction from Palice in painting flowers, and, after a year or two, was sent to Margate, in Kent, to Coleman’s school. Here he had more scope and a wider range, and made pictures of the sea, the chalk cliffs, the undulations of the coast, and the glorious effects of cloud scenery. On his return from Margate he began to earn money by coloring engravings and by painting skies in amateurs’ drawings and in architects’ plans at half a crown an evening. He always deemed this good practice, as he thus acquired facility and skill in gradations. His father at one time thought to make an architect of him, and sent him to Tom Malton to study perspective. But he failed in the exact branch of the profession, and neither with Malton nor with the architect Hardwick did he give satisfaction. While with Hardwick he drew careful sketches of old houses and churches, and this practice must have been of much use to him in after-life. His father finally sent him to the Royal Academy, where he studied hard, drawing from Greek models and the formal classic architecture. About this time he was employed, at half a crown an evening, with supper thrown in, to make copies of pictures by Dr. Munro, of Adelphi Terrace. Munro was one of the physicians employed in the care of George III. when he had a crazy spell, and owned many valuable pictures by Salvator-Rosa, Rembrandt, Snyder, Gainsborough, Hearne, Cozens, and others. He had also portfolios full of drawings of castles and cathedrals, and of Swiss and Italian scenery, and of sketches by Claude and Titian. Turner was also employed to sketch from nature in all directions about London. In these tasks he had for a constant companion “Honest Tom Girtin,” a young fellow of Turner’s own age, who afterward married a wealthy lady, had rich patrons, and died before he was thirty. Had he lived to mature years, Girtin would have been a powerful rival to Turner. They were most excellent friends, and when Girtin died in Rome, Turner was one of his most sincere mourners. Toward the close of Sir Joshua Reynolds’ life, Turner frequented his studio, copied pictures, and acquired some art secrets. He began to teach water-color drawing in schools, while still a boy, at from a crown to a guinea a lesson. He made hundreds of sketches in a part of London now built over compactly with houses in streets and squares, but then picturesque in hills and dells, in wooded fields and green lanes. With all his baggage tied in a handkerchief on the end of his walking-stick, he made a sketching tour through the towns of Rochester, Canterbury, Margate, and others, in Kent, in 1793, and about this time began to paint in oil. His first contribution to the Royal Academy was a water-color sketch in 1790. Within the next ten years he exhibited over sixty pictures of castles, cathedrals, and landscapes. All through his life he made sketches. Wherever he was, if he saw a fine or an unusual effect, he treasured it up for use. He sketched on any bit of paper, or even on his thumb-nail, if he had nothing better. Nothing escaped his attention, whether of earth, or sea, or sky. Probably no artist that ever lived gave nature such careful and profound study. His studies of cloud scenery were almost a revelation to mankind. In all this Turner drew his instruction as well as his inspiration from nature.