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J.M.W. Turner: 10 Things You Didn’t Know About This Great British Artist
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J.M.W. Turner: 10 Things You Didn’t Know About This Great British Artist

Picture of Culture Trip
Updated: 10 May 2016
This fall, Torontonians can get up close and personal with the artwork of British art giant, J.M.W. Turner. The exhibition, J.M.W. Turner: Painting Set Free, opens at the Art Gallery of Ontario on October 31, 2015, featuring over 50 paintings and watercolours from the final 15 years of Turner’s prolific career. While he’s now renowned as ‘the painter of light’, Turner was quite the controversial figure back in his day. Before checking out this unmissable exhibition, here are 10 interesting facts to boost your Turner knowledge…
War. The Exile and the Rock Limpet | © Tate, London 2015
War. The Exile and the Rock Limpet | © Tate, London 2015

1. Turner kept his very successful business in the family. His father lived with and worked for him for over 30 years – mixing colours, preparing canvases and selling works.

2. Turner was an avid fisherman who reputedly drank up to eight pints of rum and milk a day.

3. Keen to experience all forms of nature, Turner claims he had sailors tie him to the mast of a boat during a major winter storm. Visitors can experience the drama of that moment in his masterpiece Snow Storm: Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth, on view now at the AGO.

4. Turner had a peephole cut into the wall of his showroom so he could discreetly observe visitors’ reactions to his paintings.

5. In the later years of his career, Turner’s art became more radical and experimental, incorporating unusual materials like tobacco juice and stale beer. He also spit on and rubbed snuff on his work.

6. Turner liked tail-less cats. A lot. And was thought to own 7 of them.

Regulus | © Tate, London 2015
Regulus | © Tate, London 2015

7. Hugely prolific, in his lifetime Turner produced more than 30,000 sketches, drawings and watercolours. He painted from age 12 to age 76, almost the end of his life.

8. He kept his love affair with the widow Sophia Booth a secret for 18 years, living at times under an assumed name.

9. Despite being incredibly famous and wealthy in his own lifetime, Turner never lost his vulgar manners or brusque humour.

10. Turner was known as 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.

J.M.W. Turner: Painting Set Free is at the AGO from October 31, 2015 – January 31, 2016.

Art Gallery of Ontario, 317 Dundas St W, Toronto, ON, Canada + 1 416 979 6648

Facts and information received from the AGO.