Joseph Mallord William Turner

23 April 1775 (Estimated) – 19 December 1851

Joseph Mallord William Turner, more commonly known as JMW Turner, was an English artist who inspired a new appreciation for landscape art. The 3rd Earl of Egremont, who held the Cumbrian seat of Cockermouth, was a patron and friend to Turner, and consequently Turner visited the Lake District on a number of occasions, creating stunning depictions of the landscapes. One of these paintings is currently on display in a Lake District museum.


JMW Turner

JMW Turner, Self Portrait /

JMW Turner’s exact birthdate is unknown, though it is thought to have been in April 1775. He was born in London and was the son of a barber and wig maker. Turner began exhibiting artistic talent early on, with his father proudly displaying his sketches in his shop. At aged 14, Turner was admitted into the Royal Academy of Art, having impressed the panellists. His initial work largely covered architectural subjects with pencil sketches being used for prompts for his watercolours.

However, as his studies progressed he began to diversify, painting landscapes and the dramatic water scenes that he is now famous for. His work was shown in the Royal Academy from 1790 onwards, and he began to acquire patrons, one of which was the 3rd Earl of Egremont, who held the Cumbrian seat of Cockermouth.

Walter Fawkes, Yorkshire Landowner and Member of Parliament became another patron as well as close friend, and Turner was a frequent visitor to Fawkes’ Yorkshire estate. The surroundings of this estate had a profound influence on Turner’s work, and many of his finest paintings depict scenes from the area.

In 1804, Turner opened his own gallery in London, close to his home. He was a frequent traveller, both in the UK and in Europe, with many of his paintings inspired by the dramatic scenery of the Alps. Whilst he never married, he had two long-term relationships. The first was with Sarah Danby, who had two children – though it is unclear if they were Turner’s daughters. The second was with Sophia Caroline Booth, with whom Turner was living when he died in 1851.


JMW Turner had a profound impact on the art world. His landscape paintings elevated that particular form of art. He fuelled a new appreciation for paintings depicting scenes from nature as opposed to portraits and historical scenes that were, at the time more widely respected. He had great influence on a number of artists across Europe, particularly those in the French Impressionist movement.

Turner left much of his fortune to the Royal Academy of Arts, to be used to support other artists. He also desired that his collection be left to the British people in a purpose built gallery, but due to political delays this did not happen. Sadly, his collection was split up, although a large portion of it was retained by the National Gallery of British Art – today known as the Tate Gallery. Each year the Tate Gallery awards the Turner Prize for a piece of visual art, in honour of JMW Turner.

Links to the Lake District

Turner was a keen traveller, seeking inspiration for his paintings. He first visited the Lake District in 1797, and in the 1800s he was a regular visitor to Cockermouth Castle, where the 3rd Earl of Egremont resided. Turner painted a great number of scenes from the Lake District. These included Derwent Water as seen from Friar’s Crag, Coniston Water, Buttermere, and Ullswater.

Sites of Interest

You can view one of Turner’s most famous paintings, entitled “Ullswater, Cumberland” at the Wordsworth Museum (Dove Cottage) in Grasmere, which has a fine collection of art and literature from many other romanticists in in the same period.

As noted above, many of the lakes feature in Turner’s work, including Derwent Water from Friars Crag. Our family friendly walk will take you to the same view point that inspired the great artist.