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Artists at Sea: Turner and the English Channel

After writing a 1,000 word piece about Winslow Homer's eighteen month stay at an English fishing village, I'm writing a series of primers about other artists who made similar journeys.


J.M.W. Turner, Margate, c. 1822, watercolour
Who

J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851), English painter.

Coastal association

Where to start? Water and oceans were his chief inspiration, comprising the central or supporting subject of many of the 20,000+ paintings and drawings he created over a long life. But mostly he painted the waters around the English coast, either directly in his sketchbook, or in his studio-produced oil paintings.

First coastal visit

1786, Margate, on the north-east coast of Kent, when he was 11 years old.

Reasons for visiting

Many reasons, both personal and artistic, that interlock in complex ways. His earliest visits were because his parents packed him off from London to spend the summer with an uncle. During his apprenticeship as an artist, he was influenced by the methods and subject matter of Dutch seascape artists such as Claude Vernet and Willem van der Welde. As his style matured, his abiding interest in how to represent the forces of nature (wind, water, air, light) drew him back constantly to the sea.

Dates visited

Turner visited and painted rivers, seas, lakes, and oceans all around Europe. But he had a particular fondness for Margate. He returned to sketch there when he was 21, and from then on was a frequent visitor. In later years he would stay at the same place, a boarding house run by one Mrs. Booth (a relationship beautifully portrayed in the 2014 film Mr. Turner).

Effect on Work

Incalculable. For many painters in this series, the sea was just one of several subjects. With Turner, we cannot conceive of the artist without thinking of ships and the sea.

Rating

10 sea points out of 10.



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