J.M.W. Turner

On this date in 1775, Joseph Mallord William Turner was born in London.  A precocious artist, he was 15 when one of his paintings was exhibited at the Royal Academy, a great honor.

He became a highly successful painter who traveled widely and innovated his own light-filled technique. His brilliant paintings, notably of seascapes or ambitious, romantic visions of nature, anticipated impressionism. The critic John Ruskin called him “the father of modern art.” When Turner died, he left all of his paintings to Great Britain and his fortune to found a place for what he called “decaying artists.”

According to Joseph McCabe’s A Biographical Dictionary of Modern Rationalists (1920), Ruskin often referred to Turner as “an infidel.” P.G. Hamerton in The Life of J.M.W. Turner (1879) wrote that the painter “did not profess to be a member of any visible Church.”

Franny Moyle, author of Turner: The Extraordinary Life and Momentous Times of J.M.W. Turner (2016), said in a 2017 interview with the History News Network: “My personal hunch is that he may well have been a Deist. Much of his work resounds with Deism that was popular in London in the 1790s and was espoused by those who opposed organized religion and considered instead that nature provided the necessary and sufficient means to experience God.”

Turner never married but had two long-term relationships with women and fathered two daughters by one of them, Sarah Danby. He died of cholera at age 76 in 1851.

PHOTO: Turner self-portrait, cropped.

Freedom From Religion Foundation