Joseph Mallord William Turner, Britain's greatest and most mysterious artist, was the son of a Convent Garden barber and a woman who died in Bethlehem mental hospital. During his lifetime (1775-1851), Turner achieved fame and fortune for a range of work encompassing seascape and landscape, immensely powerful oil paintings and intimate watercolors. His friend and colleague C. R. Leslie remembered him thus: "Turner was short and stout, and had a sturdy, sailor-like walk. He might be taken for the captain of a steamboat at first glance; but a second would find more in his face than belongs in any ordinary mind. There was the peculiar keenness of expression in his eye that is only seen in men of constant habits of observation."
For this new biography, the first comprehensive narrative of Turner's life in a generation, Anthony Bailey has searched through the archives, studied the scholarly literature, made use of much research done in the last thirty years, and looked at almost all of Turner's sketchbooks as well as many of his paintings and watercolors. He has uncovered fresh material and put together other facts, previously known, to shed new light on those complicated and secretive man.
Anthony Bailey has set out to write a biography of the man, not a book about his paintings, and J.M.W. Turner comes vividly to life in theses pages. Both reclusive and gregarious, private and vainglorious, tough and vulnerable, a long-tern bachelor who fathered two daughters, Turner was full of contradictions, and Anthony Bailey rises masterfully to the challenge of describing them here.
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Anthony Bailey, a staff writer for The New Yorker for the past thirty-five years, is the author of seventeen books, among them The Outer Banks, Along the Edge of the Forest, In the Village, and America, Lost & Found. He divides his time between the United States and England.From Kirkus Reviews:
A thorough, careful biography of a talented, deeply evasive English painter whose own contemporaries knew little of him. Bailey, a former staff writer for the New Yorker and author of some 20 books (The Coast of Summer, 1994, etc.), undertook a difficult task in writing this. For even during the artist's lifetime, Turner took great pains to deny his past, ignoring or obliterating his various tragedies. Nonetheless, Bailey has created a convincing portrait of the man by plowing assiduously through historical records, archives, and earlier biographies. The painter who appears in these pages is anything but a sympathetic character: After his mother was committed to the notorious Bethlehem Hospital for the insane when Turner was just 26, he never spoke of her again. Upon her death just two years later, his secretiveness intensified. Given his subject's lifelong elusiveness, Bailey has done an admirable job of refracting Turner's personality through detailed and lively descriptions of his social milieu and the writings of his peers. Apparently, even his contemporaries found this small, bandy-legged, and homely man perplexing. His friend and colleague David Roberts, while acknowledging Turner's ``profound greatness,'' for example, also wrote that he was ``selfish to an extream . . . [and] cunning, penurious & sensual.'' Few ever knew that Turner first lived with one widow, fathered two daughters by her, and subsequently took up with another; he never married either. Of his artistic life, by comparison, much is known: Turner's talents were recognized in childhood, were fostered in the Royal Academy, and they remained the subject of much debate. Bailey balances each aspectthe personal and the professionalwell, and even manages to convey his own compassion for his paradoxical subject. His contradictions have puzzled many, he writes, but they endear him to me. Without ever denying Turner's quirks and petty cruelties, Bailey gradually illuminates the artist's character. -- Copyright ©1998, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
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