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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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Turner has been studied and researched to such great detail that we are able to offer some of his direct quotes from several centuries ago.

Obsessive about art, JMW Turner had little else to discuss in his life. It was his passion and took up most of his time.

Famous Quotes by JMW Turner

I don't paint so that people will understand me, I paint to show what a particular scene looks like.

If I could find anything blacker than black I'd use it.

I hate married men; they never make any sacrifice to the Arts, but are always thinking of their duty to their wives and families, or some rubbish of that sort.

I have no secret but hard work. This is a secret that many never learn, and they don't succeed because they don't learn it. Labor is the genius that changes the world from ugliness to beauty, and the great curse to a great blessing.

I know of no genius but the genius of hard work.

Indistinctness is my forte.

It is necessary to mark the greater from the lesser truth: namely the larger and more liberal idea of nature from the comparatively narrow and confined; namely that which addresses itself to the imagination from that which is solely addressed to the eye.

It is only when we are no longer fearful that we begin to create.

Light is therefore colour.

My business is to paint what I see, not what I know is there.

Explaining why some of his painted ships had elements missing from the original

No painter knew so well the extent of his own powers and his own weakness. Conscious of the power as well as the necessity of shade, he took the utmost boundaries of darkness and allowed but one-third of light, which light dazzles the eye thrown upon some favorite point, but where is judgement kept pace with his choice, surrounded with impenetrable shade.

(discussing Rembrandt)

Painting can never show her nose in company with architecture but to have it snubbed.

Painting is a strange business.

There's a sketch at every turn.

To select, combine and concentrate that which is beautiful in nature and admirable in art is as much the business of the landscape painter in his line as in the other departments of art.

Poetry by JMW Turner

Like a curtain slowly drawn
It stops suddenly half open,
Or, like grief itself, filled with gentle hope,
It becomes lighter in the shore-less dark,
Thus the moon barely wanes
Winding her way above the storm-tossed sea.
Stand upon this hill and behold endlessly
This scene of a formidable sea,
And it will seem to thee a waking dream.
That secret mind flowing in thee
Which even the day cannot scatter,
The serenity of thinking and the beating of the heart
Will enchain thee in this vision;
This golden-silver moon
Standing lonely over the sea,
All curtain the grief of even the hopeless.
And it appears that through the tempest
Moves a light caressing wind,
While the sea swells up with a roar,
Sometimes, like a battlefield it looks to me
The tempestuous sea,
Where the moon itself is a brilliant golden crown
Of a great king.
But even that moon is always beneath thee
Oh Master most high,
Oh forgive thou me
If even this master was frightened for a moment
Oh, noble moment, by art betrayed...
And how may one not delight in thee,
Oh thou young boy, but forgive thou me,
If I shall bend my white head
Before thy art divine
Thy bliss-wrought genius.

Dedicated to Ivan Aivazovsky (1842)

Quotes about JMW Turner by Art Historians and Fellow Artists

"...Whether Turner's pictures are dazzling unrealities, or whether they are realities seized upon at a moment's glance, we leave his detractors and admirers to settle between them..."

The Times (1844), upon viewing Rain, Steam and Speed – The Great Western Railway

The world has never seen anything like this picture.

William Makepeace (novelist), describing Rain, Steam and Speed – The Great Western Railway

It brings and balances facts together: sail and steam, air and water, past and present, setting sun and new moon; it balances qualities: old age and the new, dignity and presumption, silence and noise, steadiness and urgency, the temporal and the eternal; and it balances geometrical forms: the horizontal, the vertical and the diagonal. Where these lines rush towards the setting sun, the black tug and its ghostly white charge move inexorably out into their space.

Turner - A Life, James Hamilton, describing The Fighting Temeraire

And she's fading down the river, But in England's song for ever, She's the Fighting Temeraire.

Newbolt's poem

J. M. W. Turner is regarded by many as Britain’s greatest artist, whose works have become iconic symbols of the Romantic art movement. He became known as 'the painter of light', due to his increasing interest in brilliant colours and the contrast between light and dark in his many landscapes and seascapes.

Delphi Collected Works of JMW Turner