not a recorder of the “right” sentiments

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.”

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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.

Read More: ---In 1850 he exhibited for the last time. One day Turner disappeared from his house. His housekeeper, after a search of many months, found him hiding in a house in Chelsea. He had been ill for a long time. He died the following day--Dec. 19, 1851. Turner left a large fortune that he hoped would be used to support what he called "decaying artists." His collection of paintings was bequeathed to his country. At his request he was buried in St. Paul's Cathedral. Although known for his oils, Turner is regarded as one of the founders of English watercolor landscape painting.---

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….

Read More: ---Turner was described by Constable and Delacroix as slovenly in dress, with uncought manners, silent even taciturn, but with a wonderful range of mind. Entirely devoted to his art, Turner did not found a family. Whereas it is known that he has had several female companions throughout his life, especially Sarah Danby around 1798, whom he supported along with her children, and with whom he probably had his first natural child, his private life is not well known.---

…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….



Among the rich treasury of Turner’s body of work, Ruskin was dismayed to find the groups of carefully bound erotic sketches. He was shocked by these examples of his hero’s earthy humanity, and attributed them to the conviction that his idol had in fact succumbed to mental illness. The equation of erotic sketches and insanity on the part of Ruskin makes him a likely candidate for frigidity (which is not far from the truth). Ruskin’s marriage to Effie was believed to be unconsummated, giving the poor woman ample grounds to make off with young, eager Millais, the painter, and subsequently marry him – their romance taking hold as the artist painted the portrait of Ruskin, standing over the rushing water of the river in Glenfinlas, illustrated below.

In a regrettable, and almost unforgivable, desire to “cleanse” the hallowed image of Turner, Ruskin and the National Gallery’s Keeper, Ralph Wormun, ordered the “offensive” material destroyed: “…the parcel was destroyed by me, and all the obscene drawings it contained burnt in my presence in the month of December 1858,” Ruskin later wrote. Some survived, and the true extent of what was lost is not known, but it was substantial. Ruskin was not perfect, and he remained faithful to Turner despite the “disgusting discovery.” Read More:

I wish we had a Cotman in the N. Gal! I always feel his affinity to Turner. He was an odd man – always on the brink of insanity, & I fear it is true that he deranged himself. ( Lady Eastlake )
A caricature, made by Fawkes, and “though by old friends to be very like,” shows Turner as “a little Jewish-nosed man, in an ill-cut brown tail-coat, striped waistcoat, and enormous frilled shirt, with feet and hands notably small, sketching on a small piece of paper, held down almost level with his waist.” It is evident from all the accounts given that Turner’s personal appearance was not of a kind to command much attention or respect. This may have pained his sensitive nature, and led him to seek refuge in the solitude of his painting room. Had he been inclined he had abundant opportunity for social and friendly intercourse with his fellow-men, but he gradually came to live more and more in state of mental isolation, keeping himself to himself, entirely absorbed in his art. “This man must be loved for his works, for his person is not striking nor his conversation brilliant,” is the testimony of Dayes, the water-colour painter (and Girtins’ master), in 1804. Turner could never make up his mind to visit Farnley again after his old friend’s death, and his voice would falter when he spoke of the shores of the Wharfe. Read More:

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