1. How did Turner demonstrate artistic talent at an early age?

b) By drawing with his finger in milk spilt on a tea tray

…and by the time he was twelve, Turner’s father was putting up his drawings for sale in the window of his barber’s shop.

2. Which of the following did Turner dislike throughout his life?

a) His own appearance

Self-Portrait 1798 is one of very few as Turner usually tried to avoid being portrayed. The artist Clarkson Stanfield said that Turner ‘would not suffer any portrait to be taken of him because nobody would believe such an ugly fellow made such beautiful things’.

Joseph Mallord William Turner, ‘Self-Portrait’ c.1799
Joseph Mallord William Turner
Self-Portrait c.1799

3. Turner was known for his terrible rages and boorish behaviour. Often mistrusting his clients, what did Turner do?

b) Spy on visitors to his gallery through a peephole 

Turner also once threw out a visitor whom he saw there secretly making sketches.

4. What did Tate find in one of Turner’s sketchbooks?

b) A remedy for dodgy bowels

Find out about his remedy.

5. Which of the following was one of Turner’s hobbies?

a) Fishing

Throughout his life, Turner’s favourite hobby was fishing. When he was travelling, he carried a large shabby umbrella, which usually contained a long two-foot dagger but had also been known to hold a fishing rod.

6. Keen to immerse himself in nature, what did Turner claim to do?

a) Have sailors tie him to the mast of a boat during a major winter storm.

Though there is no evidence of this, visitors can experience the drama of this potential happening in his masterpiece Snow Storm - Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth, exhibited 1842.

Joseph Mallord William Turner, ‘Snow Storm - Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth’ exhibited 1842
Joseph Mallord William Turner
Snow Storm - Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth exhibited 1842

7. While hugely prolific in his lifetime, producing more than 30,000 sketches, drawings and watercolours, what was Turner not successful at?

b) Dressing well

Turner was a terrible dresser. It was reported that upon a visit to his friend Louis-Phillipe, the king of France, he had to borrow a women’s stocking to use as a bowtie.

8. In the later years of his career, Turner’s art became more radical and experimental. Which unusual material(s) did he introduce to his paint?

a) Honey and milk 

He would also spit on and rub snuff on his work. When too many of these mixtures are applied on top of another, they soon crack. Cracks are very visible in Turner’s late paintings. He was described as applying paint ‘like a tiger’, and he was more interested in the immediate pleasing effect, than the long-term survival of his paintings.

9. From 1805 to 1811, Turner lived along the Thames at Isleworth and Hammersmith and had his own sailing boat. What did the fellow boatmen nickname him?

a) Admiral

Turner spent much of his life living close to water and was not averse to being mistaken for a sailor himself! According to Ruskin, Turner loved ‘anything fishy and muddy, like Billingsgate or Hungerford Market…; black barges, patched sails, and every possible condition of fog’.

Joseph Mallord William Turner, ‘Study of Sea and Sky, Isle of Wight’ 1827
Joseph Mallord William Turner
Study of Sea and Sky, Isle of Wight 1827

10. What did Turner have health issues with?

a) His teeth

By 1847 he had lost all of his teeth and wore dentures made of wood. Not surprisingly, this was so uncomfortable for his painful gums that he rarely used them, preferring to suck the sustenance out of meat.

11. What is Turner rumoured to have done every day?

c) Drink up to eight pints of rum and milk 

In later life Turner had a round stomach, was red-faced and wore a hat, even indoors. His red face might have been due to his enjoyment of drink.

12. JMW Turner never married. Which of the following did he keep for company?

a) Tail-less cats 

Turner was thought to own 7 of them and the work Fishing upon the Blythe-Sand, Tide Setting In 1809 was apparently even used in Turner’s house as a cat flap.

Joseph Mallord William Turner, ‘Fishing upon the Blythe-Sand, Tide Setting In’ exhibited 1809
Joseph Mallord William Turner
Fishing upon the Blythe-Sand, Tide Setting In exhibited 1809

13. Turner died in 1851, aged 76. At his request he was buried in St Paul’s Cathedral, where he lies next to Sir Joshua Reynolds. Which of the following are rumoured to be his last words?

c) The Sun is God 

Turner made no secret of his love of what he called the ‘prime cheerer’ and the ‘fairest of beings’. Whether this worship was truly religious is debatable. As a painter, Turner depended on the sun to reveal colour and the beauty of nature.

How did you do? Are you a Turner master or a mere apprentice?

Go back to the quiz, or find out more about Turner at Tate and the new re-hang of the Clore galleries.