Turner was perhaps the greatest of all British artists, but there was always the question of whether his most adventurous works were evidence of mental decay. Turner was the antithesis of Charles Eastlake, the head of the Royal Academy. Eastlake had taught himself Latin and Greek, the better to find subjects for history painting, and he was one of the finest men to have sat in the presidential chair. And yet if we compare him with Turner, his learning and wit and kindness and social resource against Turner’s complete unrespectability of speech, dress, bearing, manners and outlook there would be no doubt as to where original genius lay. When Lady Eastlake visited Turner almost everything aroused her disfavour, from the housekeeper, ” a hideous woman is such a mistake,” to filthy rooms, ” penury and meanness written on every wall and every block of furniture,” and Turner himself, slovenly and blotchy, hardly even a lame image of the Greek god, “not over-clean hands, continuous, though , except to himself, unintelligible jokes.”
In general, the notion of the artist as a wild man would have been quite out of place in the Royal Academy of Eastlake’s. But, an institution which was by its very nature cosolidatory could hardly be blamed for reflecting thse half-conscious but quite powerful drives toward security and reassurance that everywhere characterized the mid-Victorian age, where the painter was perceived as an upper-class decorator, a kind of “gardener” like Capability Brown. The concept of art as an enclosed world, obedient to its own laws simply did not sink in to an elite seeking to manage another monopoly on trade.
( see link at end): Introverted by nature, he became increasingly solitary as the years went by. He never spoke of his mother, who had died insane in a time when the medical profession’s understanding of mental illness was scarcely above the witch-doctor stage. He never wed, and he observed such a strict secrecy about his relationships with his two successive mistresses (by which he is known to have fathered at least two children) that it is difficult if not impossible to know what they may have meant to him. His only publicly-acknowledged close relationship was with his father, who became his studio assistant and general factotum for many years and whose death was said to be emotionally devastating to the son.
Turner’s reputation has not been helped by biographers determined to see all his actions in the worst possible light. His preference for solitude must have been the product of a misanthropic personality….
… In fact, some people are naturally introverted, preferring their own company and not needing a constant social whirl to feel fulfilled. This is typical of artists, who by definition need quiet and solitude in order to create — it’s hard to paint when you’re constantly interrupted by people wanting to fill the time with idle conversation for its own sake.
The few people who got to know Turner well all report that he was a man capable of intense emotion — a far cry from the cold, unfeeling man that certain biographers would make him out to be. In fact, it appears that he walled himself off from strangers at least partly because of his capacity for such depths of feeling. He may well have feared that, were he to allow anyone and everyone to provoke his emotions so, they would quickly suck him dry and leave nothing but a hollow shell….
…Seen in this light, his attitude toward his mother takes on a different, less sinister aspect. Far from being evidence of hatred or contempt, his extreme reticence about her may well have been the result of a love so intense that he could not bear the pain of it….http://www.j-m-w-turner.co.uk/chronology-three.htm