I love the images and descriptions of Turner on Varnishing Day. There are quite a few sketches by other artists of the man going about his business in those very public events, depicting how people were paying attention to him. This illustration shows a cross section of reactions to his work — adoring, loathing, jealousy, wonder and everywhere in between, all in one place. “He has been here and fired a gun.”
— Kate Beaton
1 — J.M.W. Turner, the painter of light.
2 — John Constable, the British landscape painter, was Turner’s “frenemy.” He described his rival as “uncouth, with a wonderful range of mind” but also praised his technique: “He seems to paint with tinted steam, so evanescent, and so airy.”
3 — James Abbott McNeill Whistler was an American painter and printmaker who spent most of his career in Europe. He saw Turner’s work when he was a young man, and admired the paintings’ lack of finish, and their depiction of light and atmosphere. Like Turner, he enjoyed working directly from nature, often at dawn or dusk. He was inspired by the British master to visit Venice, and like him loved the reflections in the water.
4 – Claude Monet, the French Impressionist painter, saw Turner’s paintings in an exhibition in London in the early 1870s. He was influenced by him and proclaimed “Turner painted with open eyes.”
5 – Claude Debussy, the French composer, called Turner “the finest creator of mystery in the whole of art.” Both men were inspired by the many moods of nature — from the tranquil reflections in water to the wilds of storms at sea.
6 – Mrs. Sophia Booth, a landlady, was Turner’s companion in his late life. Being intensively secretive, Turner concealed their 18-year relationship even while they lived together in London. To their neighbours, he was Mr. Booth, Admiral Booth, or (our favourite) “Puggy” Booth.
7 and 8 – Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were not amused by Turner’s paintings, their lack of finish, and excessive use of yellow.
9 – John Ruskin, the British art critic and friend of the artist, called Turner “the greatest man of his age, eccentric, highlight intellectual, hating humbug of all sorts.” A huge champion of the painter, Ruskin was a serious groupie.