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J. M. W. Turner
by [?]

In Eighteen Hundred Two, when twenty-seven years of age, he visited France and made a tour through Switzerland, tramping over many long miles with his painting-kit on his back, and he brought back rich treasures in way of sketches and quickened imagination.

In the years following he took many such trips, and came to know Venice, Rome, Florence and Paris as perfectly as his own London.

When thirty-three years of age he was still worshiping at the shrine of Claude Lorraine. His pictures painted at this time are evidence of his ideal, and his book, “Liber Studiorum,” issued in Eighteen Hundred Eight, is modeled after the “Liber Veritatis.” But the book surpasses Claude’s, and Turner knew it, and this may have led him to burst his shackles and cast loose from his idol. For, in Eighteen Hundred Fifteen, we find him working according to his own ideas, showing an originality and audacity in conception and execution that made him the butt of the critics, and caused consternation to rage through the studios of competitors.

Gradually, it dawned upon a few scattered collectors that things so strongly condemned must have merit, for why should the pack bay so loudly if there were no quarry! So to have a Turner was at least something for your friends to discuss.

Then carriages began to stop before the dingy building at Forty-seven Queen Anne Street, and broadcloth and satin mounted the creaking stairs to the studio. It happened about this time that Turner’s prices began to increase. Like the sibyl of old, if a customer said, “I do not want it,” the painter put an extra ten pounds on the price. For “Dido Building Carthage,” Turner’s original price was five hundred pounds. People came to see the picture and they said, “The price is too high.” Next day Turner’s price for the “Carthage” was one thousand pounds. Finally, Sir Robert Peel offered the painter five thousand pounds for the picture, but Turner said he had decided to keep it for himself, and he did.

In the forepart of his career he sold few pictures–for the simple reason that no one wanted them. And he sold few pictures during the latter years of his life, for the reason that his prices were so high that none but the very rich could buy. First, the public scorned Turner. Next, Turner scorned the public. In the beginning it would not buy his pictures, and later it could not.

A frivolous public and a shallow press, from his first exhibition, when fifteen years of age, to his last, when seventy, made sport of his originalities. But for merit there is a recompense in sneers, and a benefit in sarcasms, and a compensation in hate; for when these things get too pronounced a champion appears. And so it was with Turner. Next to having a Boswell write one’s life, what is better than a Ruskin to uphold one’s cause!

Success came slowly; his wants were few, but his ambition never slackened, and finally the dreams of his youth became the realities of his manhood.

At twenty, Turner loved a beautiful girl–they became engaged. He went away on a tramp sketching-tour and wrote his ladylove just one short letter each month. He believed that “absence only makes the heart grow fonder,” not knowing that this statement is only the vagary of a poet. When he returned the lady was betrothed to another. He gave the pair his blessing, and remained a bachelor–a very confirmed bachelor.

Perhaps, however, the reason his fiancee proved untrue was not through lack of the epistles he wrote her, but on account of them. In the British Museum I examined several letters written by Turner. They appeared very much like copy for a Josh Billings Almanac. Such originality in spelling, punctuation and use of capitals! It was admirable in its uniqueness. Turner did not think in words–he could only think in paint. But the young lady did not know this, and when a letter came from her homely little lover she was shocked, then she laughed, then she showed these letters to a nice young man who was clerk to a fishmonger and he laughed, then they both laughed. Then this nice young man and this beautiful young lady became engaged, and they were married at Saint Andrew’s on a lovely May morning. And they lived happily ever afterward.