Last updated on March 23rd, 2023
Joseph Mallord William Turner was born, bred and died in London and was a Londoner through and through. During his lifetime he was one of the most celebrated figures in the country, the art critic John Ruskin referring to him as the “father of modern art.” Let’s follow Turner in London, meet some of the artist’s friends and foes, and see where he lived, worked and died.
Turner Locations in London
Maiden Lane, Covent Garden
J.M.W Turner was born in London on the 23 April 1775 at number 21, Maiden Lane in Covent Garden. Turner’s father was a wig maker and barber. Father and son had a very close relationship during Turner’s lifetime. His mother, who suffered from mental illness, was sent to an asylum when he was only 10. In 1790, the artist would come back to Maiden Lane, taking up residence at number 26 and staying there until 1799.
Turner was baptised in St Paul’s Church (known as the Actor’s Church) in Covent Garden. His parents were also married here.
Turner exhibited his first watercolour at the Royal Academy when he was only 15. By the age of 26, he was elected as an Associate of the Royal Academy. He later became Professor of Perspective and Acting President in 1845.
An incident between rivals Turner and the landscape artist, John Constable, happened on the eve of the Summer Exhibition in 1832. It was famously reproduced in the film, Mr Turner. Constable’s colourful The Opening of Waterloo Bridge hung next to Turner’s Helvoetsluys, with the latter believing that his muted seascape would be overshadowed during the exhibition. He decided to insert a red buoy in situ and at the last minute, whereupon a fuming Constable declared: “he has been here and fired a gun.”
You can see some of Turner’s works in the Royal Academy: check out the Collection Gallery where Turner hangs near his old rival, Constable.
Sir Joshua Reynolds was the first President of the Royal Academy and was one of a panel that admitted Turner into the Royal Academy. Later, Turner and Reynolds would live near each other in south west London. They are also buried next to each other in St Paul’s Cathedral.
47 Queen Anne Street
This chic Marylebone address was once home to Turner’s Gallery, a space which he kept in order to exhibit works of art that he could sell to his wealthy clients.
Turner’s House in London
Turner lived in Twickenham for thirteen years. You can visit his old pad, now a house museum, from 22 May. It re-opens with a new exhibition: Turner’s English Coasts. Read more about Turner’s House in London here.
Turner’s View in Richmond
Dubbed Turner’s View, the vista across the Thames from Richmond Hill was protected by an Act of Parliament in 1902. Turner and Joshua Reynolds both painted this breathtaking view, now enjoyed by locals and tourists alike.
118 and 119 Cheyne Walk
Turner died of cholera on the 19 December 1851 at the age of 76. He was living in a house on Cheyne Walk with his mistress, Sophia Caroline Booth. His final words were “the sun is God.”.
St Paul’s Cathedral
Turner is buried in St Paul’s Cathedral next to his mentor, Joshua Reynolds.
Where to see works by Turner in London
The Tate is home to the largest collection of J.M.W. Turner works in the world. Check out Tate Britain’s Clore Gallery and its Turner masterpieces. You can also see some of his unfinished canvases which were found in his studio after his death.
The Tate hosts the celebrated annual Turner Prize.
Victoria and Albert Museum
Head over to Room 87 (level 3) of the V & A where you’ll find oil paintings by J.M.W. Turner as well as his rival, Constable.
Turner’s Bequest was one of the National Gallery’s largest donations. He bequeathed his collection to the British nation with the condition that it would be kept together in a purpose-built space within the National Gallery. One of his cousins contested the will and subsequently received all of Turner’s money. The artist’s works were handed over to the National Gallery which comprised 30,000 works on paper, 300 sketchbooks and about 300 oil paintings. The bulk of these now reside in Tate Britain although some of his works are scattered across museums in London.
John Soane Museum
You can also find a slice of Turner in London in the Soane Museum. Head up to the Picture Room where you will also see some of Sir John Soane’s favourite works of art by Hogarth and Canaletto.
Whilst you’re there, head to the first floor south drawing room and check out John Flaxman’s pencil sketch of Eliza Soane, one of only a few facsimiles which Soane had of his beloved wife who died many years before him. It went missing for 30 years, but Turner located it and purchased it for his good friend. Turner also inscribed the sketch: “have the pleasure … to offer with my most sincere regards the accompanying Portrait (now sent) of Mrs Soane which I fortunately obtained at poor Jackson’s sale Believe me most truly and most faithfully yours J.M.W. Turner.”
And finally, take a look at the twenty pound bill in your wallet. See anyone you recognise?
Source: Art UK, Wikipedia, british-history.ac.uk, william-turner.org