J. M. W. Turner

Turner, referred to as William Turner and also J. M. W. Turner, was a great English painter at the very beginning of the 19th century. Turner was a landscape painter and one of the best known of English painters. His style was very different from that of any one of contemporaries such as Constable, another famous English landscape painter. Turner wasn’t interested in techniques such as rendering the world in realistic tones, or at least trying to portray the land in a naturalistic sense, even if it did include fantastic elements. Instead we have a forerunner to the Impressionists.

Not all of Turner’s work is done in this pre-impressionistic style, but most of his paintings, many of which being his most famous, are. One such painting is Turner’s Rain, Steam and Speed – The Great Western Railway. This smoky, dream like world looks like something from the repertoire of a great French Impressionist artist, but indeed it is Turner’s own hand that had an influence on that next generation of painting.The very loose brush strokes, the swirling colors and light truly make the viewer feel the speed and power of this train. The train, a large black shape recognizable only to those who have seen one before come barreling down the tracks, headed straight towards the viewer. The background is as one would see it when looking out the windows of the train, blurry, an overload of colors and moving images that the eyes can’t quite make sense of. The blue of the sky and white clouds mix together in what looks like a foamy sea.Besides the train and the trestle it barrels down, the only easily recognizable structure is a second bridge, far the left of the painting. It is cast in the same golden hue as much of the landscape surrounding it.

This depiction of the atmosphere and of movement is what inspires the Impressionists to do the same later that same century. Even by the standards of the Impressionists, this painting was done by a very loose hand. Turner wasn’t afraid to break the common molds of painting and instead focus on qualities such as the effects of the atmosphere that are not always tangible, but visible nonetheless. It is these qualities that he heightens in his painting.

Another painting showing the same qualities is The Fighting Temeraire Tugged to Her Last Berth to Be Broken Up. This painting is much more recognizable in subject matter, though the intrinsic qualities are the same as the first painting. Turner still focuses on the atmosphere, specifically the sun as it hangs low in the sky. The golden glow permeates the clouds and reflects in a thousand shades of yellow and gold on the waters as the boat is pulled slowly past. It is this that caused so many people to love Turner’s work and directly influence great artists to come.


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