Throughout the first half of the 19th century, Turner dominated British landscape painting. He was a master of atmosphere through his attention to light and colour

In this short film below, Turner expert and Curator David Brown talks about Self-Portrait c.1799, a work which is central to our Turner displays and will be reproduced on the £20 banknote.


How well do you know Turner? We give five essential facts

He loved to travel

Joseph Mallord William Turner, 'The Blue Rigi, Sunrise' 1842
Joseph Mallord William Turner
The Blue Rigi, Sunrise 1842


Turner’s appetite for mountains, notably the Rigi, and the beauty of nature grew from his regular travels. His earliest tours were within Britain; during the 1790s. It was in 1819, when he was forty-four, and at the height of his powers as a painter, that he made his first trip to Italy, filling twenty-three sketchbooks with drawings. The city of Venice became a recurring theme of his late work, in oils and watercolours, many of which were made during a stay in 1840. 

He upset the Establishment

Joseph Mallord William Turner, 'A Supine Female Nude, with Drapery over her Head' 1799-1800
Joseph Mallord William Turner
A Supine Female Nude, with Drapery over her Head 1799-1800


His late style, with its energetic brushwork and relative lack of descriptive details, combined with his modern subject matter, surprised many. Even some of his most devoted patrons, such as John Ruskin were bemused. Ruskin also disapproved of his sketches of nudes. It was previously believed that Ruskin burned them in a fit of embarrassed Victorian censorship. However, in 2005 these allegedly destroyed drawings were actually discovered to be mostly in the Tate collection, by Turner scholar Ian Warrell.

The Turner Prize, is a contemporary art award that was set up in 1984 to celebrate new developments in contemporary art. The award cited ‘Turner’ in its name because he was controversial in his own day and he had wanted to establish a prize for young artists.

He inspired an Oscar-nominated filmmaker

Turner was a compulsive artist. He had to paint. He had to draw all the time – he just didn’t stop…it was an absolute obsession.
Director, Mike Leigh

In this short film below, Director Mike Leigh shares his passion for Turner and how he channelled this into his vision for the award-winning film Mr Turner (2014).

It’s hard to paint like Turner but not impossible

Actor Timothy Spall famously underwent two years of training to learn how to paint like Turner for Mike Leigh’s film. Watch how they brought Turner to life.

Fancy having a go? Pick up some tips on how to achieve his use of line, tone and colour in a series of ‘how to’ videos.

You can see his work for free at Tate Britain

Here are our top five artworks that you shouldn’t miss on your next visit. 

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Our Turner collection includes 300 oil paintings, 300 sketchbooks and thousands of sketches and watercolours. Our collection is as diverse as his work, ranging from the sublime to the picturesque. Expect to see his early experiments in oils, large-scale exhibition pieces and his later more impressionistic works.