William Turner (1775 – 1851) once said: ‘The only secret I have is damned hard work.’ The son of a Covent Garden barber, he was a classic example of a self-made man in an era when such mobility was the exception. From his first watercolour exhibited at the Royal Academy when he was fifteen to the final oils exhibited sixty years later, he experimented and took landscape painting to a radically new place, truly exploring the face of nature and the sublime. He brought tempests and snowstorms into the gallery and dissolved castles and mountains into paint and light.
Intensely private, eccentric and reclusive, Turner was a controversial figure throughout his career. He did not marry, but fathered two daughters, Eveline and Georgiana by his housekeeper Sarah Danby. He became more pessimistic and morose as he got older and lived in near poverty circumstances and in poor health from 1845 till his death in 1851.
He left behind over 2,000 paintings and 19,000 drawings and sketches and is today regarded as having elevated landscape painting to an eminence rivalling history painting
Sarah Stopford is a guide and lecturer at Tate Britain and Tate Modern. She studied art history as part of her first degree at Harvard and her special interests are in British and post-1900 art as well as the connections between literature and the visual arts.