By James Hamilton
(Random House Trade Paperbacks, Paperback, 9780812967913, 496pp.)
Publication Date: September 11, 2007
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J.M.W. Turner was a painter whose treatment of light put him squarely in the pantheon of the world’s preeminent artists, but his character was a tangle of fascinating contradictions. While he could be coarse and rude, manipulative, ill-mannered, and inarticulate, he was also generous, questioning, and humane, and he displayed through his work a hitherto unrecognized optimism about the course of human progress. With two illegitimate daughters and several mistresses whom Turner made a career of not including in his public life, the painter was also known for his entrepreneurial cunning, demanding and receiving the highest prices for his work.
Over the course of sixty years, Turner traveled thousands of miles to seek out the landscapes of England and Europe. He was drawn overwhelmingly to coasts, to the electrifying rub of the land with the sea, and he regularly observed their union from the cliff, the beach, the pier, or from a small boat. Fueled by his prodigious talent, Turner revealed to himself and others the personality of the British and European landscapes and the moods of the surrounding seas. He kept no diary, but his many sketchbooks are intensely autobiographical, giving clues to his techniques, his itineraries, his income and expenditures, and his struggle to master the theories of perspective.
In Turner, James Hamilton takes advantage of new material discovered since the 1975 bicentennial celebration of the artist’s birth, paying particular attention to the diary of sketches with which Turner narrated his life. Hamilton’s textured portrait is fully complemented by a sixteen-page illustrations insert, including many color reproductions of Turner’s most famous landscape paintings. Seamlessly blending vibrant biography with astute art criticism, Hamilton writes with energy, style, and erudition to address the contradictions of this great artist.
“James Hamilton is an outstanding biographer. He reveals Turner’s world for all its wild contradictions and, like Turner, brings to life what the eye cannot see.”
—Amanda Foreman, author of the Whitbread Prize–winning biography Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire
“A pleasure to read.”
—A. S. Byatt, Sunday Express (London)
“Turner was a phenomenon, a one-man artistic revolution whose energy can be felt through the pages of this inspiring biography almost as much as through his own canvases....Hamilton’s descriptions of the paintings are deft and considered....You do not have to be an artist or art historian to enjoy this book.”
—Alan Judd, The Daily Telegraph (London)