Turner, Brilliant Painter of Light


The Slave Ship, 1840

Light, light, light. Light in all its effervescence; light falling in scattered shining flecks, shimmering incandescent pigment. Light like it had never before been painted.

J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851) became the leading artist of his era. A classical painter, heavily influenced by the old masters, he introduced a new way of painting and has been hailed as a forerunner of modernist abstraction.

Burning of the Houses of Parliament, 1834 Turner

Burning of the Houses of Parliament, 1834

Turner was an inveterate sketcher filling hundreds of small drawing books with his impressions of nature. He went to extreme lengths to experience his world. Turner trekked remote areas, he roped himself to a ship’s mast during a ferocious storm, and in another reckless venture…he sketched the famous burning of Parliament from a rowboat in the dead of night.

Queen Victoria, photograph

Queen Victoria, photograph

Not all were enchanted with his work. Queen Victoria touring the Royal Academy in London, pronounced Turner’s paintings, “…disgusting.  A yellow mess.” Critics were suggesting he was losing his mind.

At his death in 1851, J.M.W. Turner bequeathed all his works to the British nation.

Now playing in movie theaters: Academy Award nominated, “Mr. Turner.” Not to be missed!  
Click here if you are unable to view the video.

Art historian’s discussion of Turner’s most famous painting, “The Slave Ship.”  
Click here if you are unable to view the video.

Leave a Comment



  1. Carl Richards January 6, 2015 at 12:14 pm - Reply

    A visionary genius. The remarks by some of Turner’s contemporaries, not to mention Her Majesty, remind one of Nietzsche’s famous line “Those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.”

  2. Martha Newport Shimkus January 6, 2015 at 12:47 pm - Reply

    I loved the blog, Kirby. Turner has always been one of my favorite painters, bridging the gap between the art of the masters and impressionism. I first feel in love with him on a trip to London when I was in college. I loved the movie, Mr. Turner, and recommend it to anyone that likes Turner. The scenery is beautiful, and it is interesting to see the interaction between Turner and other painters of his day.
    I did not know the history of his painting of the slave ship in the typhoon. Thank you, Kirby.
    Martha Newport Shimkus

  3. Margo January 6, 2015 at 3:27 pm - Reply

    VERY interesting. He must have been a tad crazy, but I guess there’s a fine line between genius & crazy. He is one of my favorites. I’d love to paint like that. Thanks for another great blog. Hope the movie’s still on somewhere.

  4. Dan Warner January 6, 2015 at 4:52 pm - Reply

    Kirby- We are planning to try & see the film soon. We had the please of seeing some of his prints on exhibition at the NY Public library in December.
    Best ,

  5. Linda bail January 6, 2015 at 5:07 pm - Reply

    Thanx, Kirby. I look forward to seeing the movie.

  6. david kremenak January 6, 2015 at 7:06 pm - Reply

    If anything about Turner’s luminous renderings is “disgusting”, it is Queen Victoria’s callow assessment thereof. Thank you for highlighting another fine master whose works, thankfully, cannot be diminished by the wanton ravings of a misanthropic monarch. All is well. All is bright. All is right.
    Thanks again.

  7. kath January 7, 2015 at 9:51 am - Reply

    kirby color kirby color…kirby you live and create and share color in the most wonderful way. in your blogs i see colors i never noticed before…and meet the artists who must be your true family. thanks so much, kath

  8. Bill Helton January 7, 2015 at 7:26 pm - Reply

    Kirby, I so appreciate your sharing your wealth of knowledge so generously.

  9. Spencer January 8, 2015 at 1:20 pm - Reply

    I wanted to pass along how much I enjoyed reading through this blog this time. It’s just the right length during a busy business day in need of a brief respite. Even played one of the videos and came away smarter for it. Thank you.

  10. Richard January 8, 2015 at 1:21 pm - Reply

    This was excellent. Thanks for posting your blog..it’s always interesting.

  11. Larry January 8, 2015 at 1:24 pm - Reply

    You have highlighted one of my favorites.


  12. Linda January 8, 2015 at 10:05 pm - Reply

    Fascinating learning more about Turner’s work!
    Can’t wait to see the movie. Thanks for the education
    about this innovative artist.

  13. Robert Foxworth January 9, 2015 at 11:24 am - Reply

    Thanks Kirby. Dynamic Turner. Through your blog I seem to make a connection between Turner’s light and the edges of luminosity Rothko achieved in some of his work. Keep ’em coming.

  14. Linda Blair January 9, 2015 at 12:30 pm - Reply

    Bob Foxworth makes a fascinating and creative connection between Turner’s luminosity and the edges of Rothko’s work… in fact, Turner was so unique and fecund, that just about every successive school of art — abstraction, Expressionism, Romanticism, etc. — has been traced back to him. Can’t wait to see the movie!

    Linda Blair

  15. Vic DePratti January 10, 2015 at 9:05 pm - Reply

    I am not familiar with Turner’s work. But your description of his use of light is “enlightening”. A critical part of any form of graphic art, It appears that it is Turner’s hall mark. He maximizes and has made it the essential feature of his art. As for the critics of his art, who cares?

  16. Lydia Pettis January 17, 2015 at 9:52 am - Reply

    Thank you Kirby. My favorite part of the blog was the conversation between Landay and Harris. Wouldn’t it be something to share that somehow with the whole world. Well… Also, I sure was taken with Turner’s painting, and yet that almost goes without saying. Queen Victoria’s comment illustrates how impossible it is for human beings to “see” something in their minds and hearts that was not ever there before. She was literally blind to Turner’s reality. The quantum physics people would be able to comment much better than I about that. This all would make for a great discussion sometime!

Leave A Comment