Turner : The Extraordinary Life and Momentous Times of J.M.W. Turner

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The life of one of Western art's most admired and misunderstood painters J.M.W. Turner is one of the most important figures in Western art, and his visionary work paved the way for a revolution in landscape painting. Over the course of his lifetime, Turner strove to liberate painting from an antiquated system of patronage. Bringing a new level of expression and color to his canvases, he paved the way for the modern artist. Turner was very much a man of his changing era. In his lifetime, he saw Britain ravaged by Napoleonic wars, revived by the Industrial Revolution, and embarked upon a new moment of Imperial glory with the ascendancy of Queen Victoria. His own life embodied astonishing transformation. Born the son of a barber in Covent Garden, he was buried amid pomp and ceremony in St. Paul's Cathedral. Turner was accepted into the prestigious Royal Academy at the height of the French Revolution when a climate of fear dominated Britain. Unable to travel abroad he explored at home, reimagining the landscape to create some of the most iconic scenes of his country. But his work always had a profound human element. When a moment of peace allowed travel into Europe, Turner was one of the first artists to capture the beauty of the Alps, to revive Venice as a subject, and to follow in Byron's footsteps through the Rhine country. While he was commercially successful for most of his career, Turner's personal life remained fraught. His mother suffered from mental illness and was committed to Bedlam. Turner never married but had several long-term mistresses and illegitimate daughters. His erotic drawings were numerous but were covered up by prurient Victorians after his death. Turner's late, impressionistic work was held up by his Victorian detractors as example of a creeping madness. Affection for the artist's work soured. John Ruskin, the greatest of all 19th century art critics, did what he could to rescue Turner's reputation, but Turner's very last works confounded even his greatest defender. TURNER humanizes this surprising genius while placing him in his fascinating historical context. Franny Moyle brilliantly tells the story of the man to give us an astonishing portrait of the artist and a vivid evocation of Britain and Europe in flux.show more

Product details

  • Hardback | 508 pages
  • 163 x 231 x 43mm | 816g
  • Penguin Press
  • United States
  • English
  • 3-8PP 4/C INSERTS
  • 0735220921
  • 9780735220928
  • 390,816

Review quote

Was Turner the first popular artist of the modern age? Franny Moyle certainly believes so . Ms. Moyle, who has previously written biographies of Mrs. Oscar Wilde and the Pre-Raphaelites, is excellent at establishing stylistic contexts She has written a fine book, deftly weaving psychological detail, painterly observations and historical context. The Wall Street Journal [Moyle s] history flows attractively her text keeps us aware of the Europe-wide wars These wars and the meteorological melodramas devised on his easel seem to complement one another, each shining a lurid stormlight on what Moyle dubs an epic era. Her book stirs with its suggestions of the interconnections . Moyle lend[s] Turner a rounded and sympathetic persona. The New York Review of Books Moyle carefully documents Turner s impact on European art, and she includes a selection of color plates to illustrate the evolution of his work. Turner s unconventional life also makes fascinating reading. This biography is highly recommended. Historical Novel Society A textured portrait of a complex artist . Moyle proves herself a critic whose erudition stems from countless hours smelling the paint and gazing at brushstrokes, as well as a biographer who s spent time in the archives, analyzing sketch books and hunting down letters As a general biography, Turner is excellent. Moyle s background as a television producer comes through in her engaging narrative structure, and her beautiful prose conveys Turner s glittering work and the sheer scope of his achievements. Washington Post An exemplary work Moyle explores the whole of his long life, expertly charting the artist s development from his precocious conquering of the Royal Academy to his late, experimental paintings. Moyle is especially good at delineating Turner s artistic methods and her enthralling account is filled with an impressive understanding of his unique talent. Ian Critchley, Sunday Times A thorough, balanced and wonderfully fluent account. Franny Moyle [is] one of the best in the long line of ]Turner s] biographers. One of Turner s many achievements was to paint Britain in all its moods and show his peers the real nature and variety of their own country. In her immaculate biography Moyle has done something similar with the man himself. Michael Prodger, Times Moyle is good on Turner s momentous times, interweaving history, the history of art and the public s attitude toward art. Claudia Fitzherbert, Telegraph It is hard, on one level, to believe his sublime canvases ... come with a character attached at all. But Moyle tells the human story well in a book of rigorous scholarship and beauty She offers an earthy, warts-and-all depiction of the Romantic master JMW Turner that is shaped by the dogged realism of a low-born man who had an exceptional artistic vision This is well written and meticulously researched All we once had left of Turner were his paintings, now we have another vibrant biography to commemorate his art, and where it took us. Lorraine Courtenay, Irish Independent Elegant and thorough Moyle s superb evocation of these aspects of her subject allows us to see Turner less as the misunderstood genius who moved in a sphere untouched by the realities of the day, and more as an arch manipulator and central player in the great game of art that evolved across the late 18th and 19th centuries, a man praised to the hilt by a great many of his contemporaries [who] acknowledged his significance in the creation of the idea of the independent artist . It is to Moyle s credit that she is able to make this persuasive case while narrating Turner s life with verve, intelligence and insight, and while bringing to life the world in which he lived with care and subtlety. This is a biography that leaves you with a fresh impression of both Turner and his time. It frees its subjects from myth, and imbues them with the quality of wonder. Matthew Adams, I News Franny Moyle tells a compelling story of a self taught prodigy... A restless painter who always sought new forms of expression in watercolour and oils. Moyle is an unpretentious art historian, and she has written an inviting and easily digested biography of the best of British painters. Stephen Fay, Economist Moyle's art-historical perceptions make this detailed and beautifully balanced biography a compelling read... Turner emerges from it larger... revealed as a man of his moment. Brian Morton, Scottish Herald Miss Moyle tells a very good story. She is sound on the art without allowing art historicism to weigh her down. She is also excellent on the complicated politics of the Royal Academy. We get a feel for the man in all his cantankerousness and eccentricity, but she also brings out the humour and at least after he had made his own fortune the generosity, especially towards his fellow artists. Country Life Detailed and persuasive. Andrew Marr, BBC Radio 4 Start the Week Moyle is good on Turner s momentous times, interweaving history, the history of art and the public s attitude toward art. Sunday Telegraph A biographical must-read The words on the page offer views every bit as captivating as Turner s ageless panoramas. Summer Read, Big Issue Moyle is excellent at establishing these stylistic contexts. ... her art-historical perceptions are what make this detailed and beautifully balanced biography so compelling a read. It's rare that one finishes a modern biography feeling that the subject has been enhanced and not merely dissected. McKern and Spall can step aside. The real Turner is onstage. Herald In rip-roaring style [His life provided] rich pickings for any biographer, and Moyle gives them the drama they deserve. Moyle is consistently perceptive about Turner s work. Her narrative is as colourful as it is pacy. John Preston, Daily Mail What Ruskin misses, but Moyle writes about so persuasively, is Turner's ambition. Four star review, Laura Freeman, Mail on Sunday Like all good storytellers, Moyle begins with high drama a popular rather than scholarly work the author enlivens her tale with perfect details [an] excellent biography. --Kirkus (starred) Franny Moyle s biography is a fat, satisfying popular history of the man who was arguably Britain s greatest painter. Ms. Moyle has not written academic art history; she is entertaining on Turner s life and good on his times. The Economist Fresh and lively Turner s life is given a vivid colour and depth as Moyle deftly interweaves his professional career with his private life. Moyle writes with sensitivity about individual pictures and series, and is good at explaining the context. BBC History Magazine Moyle s [book] is satisfying, not least because it allows for the intimacy of reading. Less is more when it comes to biography and Moyle gives Turner s restless life a perspective and a frame. The New Statesman Franny Moyle s biography is a fat, satisfying popular history of the man who was arguably Britain s greatest painter. Ms. Moyle has not written academic art history; she is entertaining on Turner s life and good on his times. The Economist"show more

About Franny Moyle

Franny Moyle studied Art History at St John's College, Cambridge. She enjoyed a career in arts programming at the BBC that culminated in her becoming the corporation's first Commissioner for Arts and Culture. She is now a freelance executive producer and writer and lives in east London. She is the author of Constance: The Tragic and Scandalous Life of Mrs Oscar Wilde and Desperate Romantics: The Private Lives of the Pre-Raphaelites.show more

Rating details

73 ratings
3.95 out of 5 stars
5 34% (25)
4 37% (27)
3 22% (16)
2 4% (3)
1 3% (2)
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