xxxxxJoseph Mallord William Turner was one of England’s greatest and most original landscape artists. He attended the Royal Academy school and then, together with his friend and rival Thomas Girtin, studied at the academy run by the art collector Thomas Monro. At first he painted picturesque landscapes to make a good living, but his abiding love of water and boats also produced an array of brilliant sea pieces, ranging from the serene to the tempestuous. His style was mainly influenced by the works of Cozens, Canaletto, Claude Lorrain and Richard Wilson. He travelled widely to find worthy subjects, and his visits abroad introduced him to the purity of Italy’s natural light, and the beauty of Venice. As we shall see (1838 Va), he then began to experiment with a new method of reproducing the effects of light and this, together with his daring use of colour and free brushwork, were to produce the masterpieces of his later years. His major works in this early period included Tintern Abbey (1795), Calais Pier (1803), Frosty Morning (1813), Crossing the Brook (1815), Snowstorm: Hannibal crossing the Alps (1812) and The Bay of Baiae (1823).


1775 - 1851  (G3a, G3b, G3c, G4, W4, Va)


Turner: Self-Portrait – Tate Gallery, London; Fishermen at Sea – Tate Gallery, London; Sunrise through Vapour – National Gallery, London; Portrait of Turner by Thomas Monro – Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indiana; Frosty Morning – Tate Gallery, London; San Giorgio Maggiore at Dawn – Tate Gallery, London; Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage – Tate Gallery, London; Stonehenge – Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum; Quillebeuf at the mouth of the Seine – Museu Calouste Gulbenkian, Lisbon. Girtin: White House, Chelsea – Tate Gallery, London; Durham Cathedral – Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester University; Morpeth Bridge – Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle-on-Tyne; Eton College from Datchet Road – Paul Melon Collection, Yale Centre for British Art, New Haven, CT; Crome: Yarmouth Harbour, Evening – Tate Gallery, London; Back of the New Mills – Castle Museum and Art Collection, Norwich; River Scene – Yale Centre for British Art, New Haven, CT; Moonlight, Norwich – Russell-Cotes Art Gallery, Bournemouth, England. Cotman: Greta Bridge – Norwich Museum and Art Gallery; Snowden – Norwich Museum and Art Gallery; A Ploughed Field – City Art Gallery, Leeds; After the Storm – Norwich Museum and Art Gallery. Sandby: Windsor Castle from North Terrace – Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Varley: Hove Church – City Art Gallery, Leeds. Cox: Rhyl Sands – Tate Gallery, London. Wint: A Cornfield – Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

xxxxxJoseph Mallord William Turner is one of England’s most outstanding and original landscape artists. Few have matched his varied range of ability, and none has surpassed him in his bold treatment of the effects of natural light , seen at its best, perhaps in his pictures of Venice. Later, as we shall see, his daring use of colour and his free-flowing brushwork - combined with his highly original lighting technique - made him a precursor of impressionism.

xxxxxTurner was born in London, the son of a barber. The family lived over his father’s shop in Maiden Lane, Covent Garden. His marked ability at drawing earned him a free place at the Royal Academy school at the age of 14 and, after completing the course in 1793, he worked for three years at No.8 Adelphi Terrace, the home of an art collector named Thomas Monro. It was here, employed as a copyist, that he worked alongside his friend and rival Thomas Girtin, and came to know the paintings and drawings of a variety of artists. He was particularly attracted to the wild, romantic landscapes of the English watercolour artist John Robert Cozens (whom he met) and to drawings of Venice by the Italian painter Antonio Canaletto.

xxxxxIn these early years he worked in watercolour and his subjects were mostly romantic landscapes or mythological scenes, dotted with crumbling abbeys and castles to meet the demand for the picturesque. Within a few years he had more commissions than he could handle, and had opened his own studio at Hand Court in Maiden Lane. In the 1790s, however, he began experimenting in oils and exhibited his first painting in that medium in 1796. A highly dramatic work entitled Fishermen at Sea (illustrated), it showed the men as they struggled against gale-force winds off the Isle of Wight. It was well received, and it was to be but the first of many paintings depicting man’s struggle against the elements, on land as well as at sea. At this time, and throughout his career, the majority of his paintings were based on his own sketches. He spent a great deal of time travelling on the continent - France, Switzerland, Italy and the Rhineland - as well as in Britain, and wherever he went he made quick drawings of the landscape and architecture, some of them in watercolour. On his first visit to Italy in 1819, for example, he produced nearly 1,500 such sketches.

xxxxxIn the spring of 1799 he visited the house of one of his patrons, and saw two paintings by Claude Lorrain. This awakened an interest in historical painting, and also encouraged him to experiment with the diffusion of light - as in The Sun Rising Through Vapour of 1807 (illustrated below) - an innovation which was to become a major feature of his later paintings. Also influential at this time were the works of the Welsh painter Richard Wilson, whose classical landscapes were bathed in the Italian light that he was to admire so much when he visited Rome. In 1802 he was elected a full member of the Royal Academy, and it was in that year - taking advantage of the Peace of Amiens - that he made his first trip to the Continent. It was almost his last. His boat was caught in a storm and only just managed to put in at Calais. He made sketches on the spot and later recorded the incident on canvas (Calais Pier 1803). Having landed safely, he first travelled to Switzerland, where he was particularly taken by the alpine scenes, and then came back to Paris to visit the Louvre - where Napoleon had put on display 30 paintings he had stolen during his conquests in Europe! On his return he was wealthy enough to open his own gallery in Harley Street, but with the outbreak of the Napoleonic Wars, his visits to the continent had to be put on hold, and he spent the next 15 years travelling extensively in Britain.

xxxxxIn 1805 he was able to make a drawing of HMS Victory as it entered the Medway, carrying the body of Lord Nelson, and he later went on board and chatted to the crew. Ever since a child Turner had been passionately interested in water and boats, hence his many paintings of the Thames and his fascination with rivers, docks and events at sea. He prided himself on his nautical knowledge, and filled his canvases with vessels and rigging of every shape and size. His dockyard scenes, for example, had all the paraphernalia that clutters a busy wharf. And in all these sea pieces the elements played an atmospheric part, be it fog, early morning mist, the play of sun and moonlight on the water, or the violence of a storm at sea. During his career he made a large number of engravings and he used these to illustrate some of his work, including his Rivers of England and France, and his unfinished Liber Studiorum, a collection of 71 plates demonstrating the different styles of composition he used in his paintings, including historical, pastoral, architectural and, of course, marine. He planned to publish 100 plates, but abandoned the project in 1819.

xxxxxWith the war with France over, Turner paid his first visit to Italy in 1819, and became totally won over by the beauty of the country, the wealth of its art and, above all, the magic quality of its natural light. On his return he began to experiment with both watercolour and oils to find his own means of capturing light by the use of pure colour. Following a second visit to Italy in 1828, during which he was captivated by the grandeur and breath-taking vistas of Venice, he produced watercolours of this island city which were most remarkable for their atmospheric lighting effects. (Thomas Monro made this sketch of Turner when he worked for him as a copier in 1796.)

xxxxxIn the beginning, Turner’s landscapes were much influenced by Dutch art, but acquaintance with the works of the English painter Robert Cozens and the Welsh artist Richard Wilson gave his paintings a greater degree of imagination and flair, and by the early 1800s he was broadening his approach, based on the works of some of the old masters, notably the 17th century painters Nicolas Poussin, Claude Lorrain, and Aelbert Cuyp. Following his trips to the continent, however, his own, very distinctive style began to evolve, marked by the use of bold, unorthodox colours, an imaginative interpretation, and an original and subtle lighting technique in the creation of atmosphere. Later, as we shall see (1838 Va), he was to develop this style much further, and produce a series of masterpieces which anticipated impressionism and sometimes bordered on the abstract.


Thomas Girtin and

The Norwich School

xxxxxAmong his outstanding paintings during this early period were Stoke House, Bristol (1791), San Giorgio Maggiore at Dawn (1819) (illustrated right above), Calais Pier (1803), Frosty Morning (1813) (illustrated left above), Snowstorm: Hannibal Crossing the Alps (1812), Crossing the Brook (1815), Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage (1819) - based on Byron’s verse tale - and The Bay of Baiae (1823). The English artist John Constable later wrote that Frosty Morning was “a picture of pictures”.

xxxxxIllustrated here are three works from his early years: Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, Stonehenge, and Quillebeuf at the mouth of the Seine.


xxxxxJoseph Turner’s close friend Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) also became one of England’s finest watercolour artists. Likewise influenced by painters such as Cozens, Wilson and Canaletto, his landscapes became greatly admired, and did much to enhance watercolour as a medium. His romantic style was especially noted for the mood it created, together with a remarkable sense of airy space - achieved by the use of transparent washes. He died prematurely at the age of 27, but he left some outstanding works. These included Lichfield Cathedral, The White House at Chelsea, a series of etchings of Paris, and his Eidometropolis, a large collection of views across London.

xxxxxThe English painter Thomas Girtin (1775-1802), who worked with Turner when they were both students, was one of the finest watercolour artists of the 18th century, and did much to make watercolour a medium in its own right. In his formative years he was influenced above all by the works of the British artists John Robert Cozens and Richard Wilson, and the Italian painters Antonio Canaletto and Giovanni Battista Piranesi, famous for his prints of ancient Rome. Like Turner, he specialised in landscapes, and by the mid-1790s had developed his own romantic style, noted especially for its sensitivity towards mood, and the airy sense of space created by the use of transparent washes. He began exhibiting at the Royal Academy as early as 1794.

xxxxxIn search of his subject matter, he went on frequent sketching tours across northern England, Scotland and Wales, but in addition to some magnificent views of the British countryside, he also produced a series of delightful etchings of Paris when he visited that city in 1801. In 1802, the year of his untimely death (when he was only 27) he worked on his Eidometropolis, a large collection of views from across London, and he just lived long enough to see it put on exhibition. Six of his sketches for this vast undertaking are held by the British Museum.

xxxxxParticularly notable among his scenes are his Lichfield Cathedral, View on the Wharfe and The White House at Chelsea (illustrated above), now in the Tate Gallery, London. Such works had a marked influence on the development of landscape painting. We are told that the English artist John Constable showed an interest in his pioneering technique, and that Turner learnt from his friend and recognised his talent. “Had Girtin lived”, he later wrote, “I should have starved”. Shown below are Durham Cathedral, Morpeth Bridge, and Eton College from Datchet Road.,

xxxxxThe Norwich School of painting was centred around a flourishing society of local artists specialising in landscapes and marine subjects. This society, set up in 1803, was mainly due to the efforts of two men from Norwich, Crome and Cotman. Many of its members were influenced by the works of the 17th century Dutch masters, such as Ruisdael and Cuyp. John Crome (1768-1821) excelled in oil painting, producing scenes from the Norfolk countryside which were true to nature and, by subtle effects, achieved an atmosphere of both grandeur and tranquillity. Influenced especially by the Dutch artist Hobbema, his major works included View of Mousehold Heath, Moonrise on the Marshes of the Yare, and The Poringland Oak. John Sell Cotman (1782-1842) studied in London from 1800, working alongside both Girtin and Turner, and his watercolour landscapes, many exhibited at the Royal Academy, gained notice by their originality. His fresher, freer approach, achieved by replacing excessive liner design with a bold pattern of flat, coloured washes, can best be seen in his masterpiece Greta Bridge, produced in 1805. He returned to Norfolk in 1807 and after working as a drawing teacher in Norwich, moved to Yarmouth in 1811, where he produced a series of etchings depicting the architectural antiquities of England and Normandy. He ended his days teaching in London, saddened by his lack of artistic recognition.

xxxxxEnglish landscape and marine painting, both in watercolour and oils, was enhanced at this time by the Norwich School, founded in 1803. Made up of amateur as well as professional painters, many of its members were inspired by Dutch art in this genre, seen particularly in the serene works of 17th century masters like Ruisdael, Cuyp, and Hobbema. This Norwich Society of Artists flourished for thirty years, and produced some outstanding landscapes of the Norfolk coast and countryside. It was founded by two local artists John Crome and John Sell Cotman, both of whom failed to gain recognition in their own time. Today, their paintings are on show worldwide, and Norwich castle museum contains paintings by various members of the school.

xxxxxJohnxCrome (1768-1821) was born in Norwich. He showed artistic talent at an early age, but there was very little money in the family so, as a painter, he was largely self-taught. At the age of 14 he was apprenticed to a local sign painter, and this introduced him to the local art world. Like many East Anglian artists at this time, his work was influenced by the 17th century Dutch masters - notably Meindert Hobbema - but he was also impressed by English painters like Thomas Gainsborough and Richard Wilson, whose works he saw in local collections, notably that of Thomas Harvey, a local art connoisseur.

xxxxxAfter his apprenticeship, he was obliged to earn his living as a drawing teacher in his home town, and this brought him into contact with a wider circle of professional and amateur painters. In 1803, encouraged in particular by the Norwich landscape artist John Cotman, he founded the Norwich Society of Artists, a group which, formed for the mutual improvement of its members, developed into the Norwich School of painting. Within a few years Crome was regarded as the society’s official representative, and was elected its president in 1808.


xxxxxAt first, on the advice of Cotman - who was 14 years his senior - he worked in watercolour and also produced a number of etchings, but he soon turned to oil painting where his true talent lay. In this medium he produced some faithful representations of the Norfolk countryside, noted for the balance of their composition, the effective use of colour, and the subtle effects employed to create an atmosphere of both grandeur and tranquillity.

xxxxxSave for short visits to London, one or two places in England, and a few towns in France and Belgium, Crome never budged from Norfolk, fully satisfied to take as his subjects the open skies and peaceful settings around his birthplace. Nor was he very interested in exhibiting his works outside of Norwich. In the twelve years from 1806, he only sent 13 works to London. Not surprisingly, he became well known and respected locally, and in 1801 he was able to buy a large house and - in contrast to his earlier days - enjoy a comfortable life-style.

xxxxxHis masterpieces included View of Mousehold Heath, a work full of light, air and space, The Slate Quarries, Moonrise on the Marshes of the Yare, Yarmouth Harbour (illustrated above), and The Poringland Oak, a painting worthy of his idol Hobbema. Shown here are Back of the New Mills, A River Scene, and Moonlight, Norwich.

xxxxxIncidentally, the art collector Thomas Monro (1759-1833), for whom both Turner and Girtin worked, was a psychologist by profession. He invited young artists to his home to copy and colour works in his collection, providing them with meals and materials, and sometimes buying their works. It was he who cared for John Robert Cozens when he became insane in 1793. ……

xxxxx…… Turner’s father was very supportive of his son. He encouraged him to take up painting, and, in the early days, used to display his drawings in his barber’s shop. He sold a few to his customers. Later in his life, after his wife had been committed to a mental hospital, he went to live with Turner, and became his studio assistant and agent. ……

xxxxx…… Turner sold his Sun rising through Vapour in 1807, soon after painting it, but he bought it back twenty years later and, together with his Dido Building Carthage, bequeathed it to the National Gallery. However, they were given on one condition: that they should always be hung beside two particular paintings - Marriage of Isaac and Rebecca and Embarkation of the Queen of Sheba, the works of Claude Lorrain. Turner greatly admired the landscapes of this French artist, and he wanted to show the British public that his own landscapes compared favourably with his!

xxxxxIncidentally, such was the high esteem in which Crome held Hobbema, that it is reputed that on his death bed his dying words were “Hobbema, Hobbema, how I have loved you”. In his work he certainly captured the kind of idyllic landscapes produced by this Dutch master. ……

xxxxx…… JohnxCromexis often referred to as ‘Old Crome’ to distinguish him from his son John Berney Crome (1794-1842). He also became an art teacher and painter in Norwich, his work being especially noted for its realistic effects of moonlight.

xxxxxUnlikexCrome, John Sell Cotman (1782-1842) received formal training. He was born in Norwich in 1782, the son of a successful draper. He received a good education at the local grammar school, and was destined to take over his father’s business until his artistic talent took him in a different direction. He studied and worked in London from the age of eighteen and, like Girtin and Turner, was one of Thomas Monro’s young students. Here he developed a close friendship with Girtin, and his death in 1802 deeply affected him.

xxxxxFrom 1800 to 1806 he exhibited 30 paintings at the Royal Academy, and his watercolour landscapes of pastoral scenes of Yorkshire aroused particular interest because of their originality. His style, seen at its best in his famous Greta Bridge of 1805 (illustrated), achieved a fresher, freer approach by replacing excessive linear design with a bold pattern of flat washes in cool, harmonious colours. This created a breadth of vision and a feeling of grandeur not generally associated with the treatment of this subject. He later turned his hand to oil painting, but achieved less success in this medium, despite demonstrating a distinct manner of his own.

xxxxxIn 1803, together with John Crome, he helped to set up the society of artists at Norwich and returned to live in Norfolk four years later. Here he worked as a drawing teacher and, on the advice of Crome, concentrated mainly on landscape painting. In the society’s exhibition of 1808 he entered over 60 works. In 1811 he went to Yarmouth to teach drawing, but he continued painting in watercolour and oils. It was here, over the next ten years, that he produced a series of etchings depicting the architectural antiquities of England and Normandy. These were warmly received locally, where he had become well-known and respected, but his talent was not widely recognised, and he struggled to make a living. Eventually in 1834, with the help of friends, he gained employment as a drawing teacher at King’s College School, London, but by then his health was beginning to fail, marred by fits of depression. He died in 1842, and was buried in the churchyard of St. John’s Wood.

xxxxxThe works he left, now highly valued, were sold off cheaply, regarded by many as unfinished because of their simple, broad design and their lack of linear detail. A number are held by the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Shown here are Snowden, A Ploughed Field, and After the Storm.

xxxxxThreexother English watercolour artists deserve to be mentioned here. Paul Sandby (1725-1809) is often called “the father of English watercolour”. As a surveyor for the Army, he travelled widely, and produced landscapes of both the Welsh and Scottish countryside. His paintings, often depicting ruined castles beneath leaden skies, anticipated the romantic works of Girtin and Turner. As a founder member of the Royal Academy, he did much to promote watercolour painting, demonstrating how it might be applied directly without the need for detailed line drawing. In later life he often stayed at Windsor, and while there he produced a number of fine paintings of Windsor Castle, some of them now in the Royal Collection. Shown here is Windsor Castle, North Terrace, painted in 1790.

xxxxxJohnxVarley (1778-1842) was one of Thomas Monro’s protégés and played a leading part in popularising watercolour as a medium. He became noted above all for his picturesque views of North Wales. He was a friend of the mystic poet and artist William Blake, and, together with his brother Cornelius, founded the Water Colour Society in 1804. Later in his career he became an art teacher in London. Shown below on the left is his Hove Church of 1824.

DavidxCox (1783-1859) studied under John Varley. He also was known for his many landscapes of North Wales and, in particular, for their attractive cloud effects - to be seen here, for example, in Rhyl Sands (illustrated centre above). He made a living as a drawing master, and wrote a number of books on painting technique.

And another of Varley’s pupils was the English landscape painter Peter De Wint (1784-1849). An artist of Dutch-American descent, he was influenced by the work of Thomas Girtin, and produced some fine watercolours, notably of the city of Lincoln - his wife’s home town - and its surrounding countryside. He developed a marked freedom in his brushwork and in his handling of watercolour. His works included The Cricketers, The Hay Harvest, and A Cornfield, produced in 1815 (illustrated right above).