J. M. W. Turner’s Sketchbooks

Above: “A Paddle-steamer in a Storm,” a page from a Turner sketchbook

Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851)

British painter J. M. W. Turner’s first biographer, George Walter Thornbury (1828-1876), examined several of Turner’s sketchbooks in person and wrote a lively description of their contents:  “In a little red book with a clasp, marked June, 1813, I found various scraps of notes about chemistry, and several studies for pictures in rivalry of Claude–as usual very slight.  Some of the leaves are smeared by rubbing, the lines are blunt, soft pencil lines; the trees often loop, and some of the boughs are mere lank fingers and dark zigzags.  Yet even in these there is an implication of Turner’s great qualities of multitude and distance.  Occasionally, too, I came upon useful receipts, such as an experienced traveler would be likely to treasure.  There is a receipt for making waterproof with linseed oil and gum elastic, and a prescription for the Maltese plague, as if Turner’s mind were tending eastward.” (pages  358-367).

I recorded Thornbury’s impressions of Turner’s sketchbooks for the 63rd volume of the LibriVox Nonfiction Collection.  You can access my recording here:

Thornbury’s The Life of J. M. W. Turner, R.A., Founded on Letters and Papers furnished by His Friends and Fellow Academicians, published in 1862, in available through google books.  You can access it here.

You might enjoy:


lake painting by John Singer Sargent

by John Singer Sargent 1896

John Singer Sargent


John Constable, painting of bonfire

John Constable, Bonfire (ca 1822)

John Constable, Landscape Painter

Painting of sunsetKrakatoa After-Glows (a description by Gerard Manley Hopkins)