A unique style of natural symbolism is seen in the widley influential school of English landscape painting. In the same way that art and literature are keys to the art of the French Romantics, English Romantic poetry is the key to the paintings of Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) one finds descriptions about nature in its terror and glory somewhat more often than in it's calmness and demurity. The idealised and fanciful landscape, often of Venice, represented one side of Turner's later style. The other was the increasingly direct expression of the destructiveness of nature is plainly seen especially in some of his seapieces. Using a revolving vortex-like composition he depicts the force of wind and water with vigorous brushwork. In certain watercolors he suspended altogether the concrete from of a specific subject, leaving almost everything in doubt but the positive existence of color. Traveling extensively through Europe, wherever he visited Turner studied the effects of sea and sky in every kind of weather, seemingly effortless watercolours and oil sketches were based on impressions of nature.

In his atmospheric depictions of shipwrecks and natural disasters such as The Slave Ship where dreamlike reality and fantasy merge and color is used to metaphorically evoke the power of nature over man. Influenced by Claude Lorrain, Turner abandoned form, simply showing shapes by merely outlining with light and color. Turner lent color autonomy and endowed it with a power of its own. This achievement was to be especially influential on 20th century art and by the end of his career his fascination with painting light foreshadowed both impressionism and abstract art which dispenses with shape and form altogether.

In certain watercolors he suspends completely the definition of a specific subject, leaving almost everything in doubt but the positive existence of color. Many of the exhibited paintings began the same way; the act of defining a particular scene was left until the varnishing days when the paintings were already hanging, and then performed with great brilliance. By the 1830s, as acquaintance Charles Eastlake explained to Turner's first biographer Walter Thornbury,' none of Turner's exhibited pictures could be said to be finished till he had worked on them when they were on the walls of the Royal Academy.'
Another contemporary artist described how Turner sent in a picture to the British Institution exhibition of 1835 in a state no more finished than 'a mere dab of several colours, and "without form and void"'; the account continues that 'Such a magician, performing his incantations in public, was an object of interest and attraction'.

At the age of 15 Turner received a rare honor when he was selcted to exhibit his first picture Fishermen at Sea in the Royal Academy exhibition in 1796. His mother died when he was very young and while his father worked as a barber, Turner would display his first works for sale in his father's shop window. Unlike most artists he was successful throughout most of his carreer. He became more reclusive and eccentric with few friends in his later years refusing to allow anyone to to watch him as he painted. Tempermantal and secretive he disappeared for several months. Later he was found very ill hiding in a house in Chelsea. He died December 19, 1851, leaving a large fortune that he hoped would be used to support what he called "decaying artists."


Justus, Kevin. "Art and Culture II." Tucson , Arizona.
1992. (Lecture presented at Pima Community College.)

De La Croix, Horst, Richard D. Tansey, and Diane Kirkpatrick.
Art Through the Ages. University of Michigan: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.