J M W Turner (1775-1851) Goldfinch from the
Farnley Hall Bird Book,1815-1816.
Leeds Art Gallery Collection.


J M W Turner (1775-1851) Whitby c.1824. Watercolour on paper.
Photo: © Tate, London 2012.

In the 18th century English patrons of art still looked to Classical inspiration for their taste and, apart from some distinguished portrait painters, English painting was not very advanced in content or style, in spite of the prevailing theories about painting we call the Picturesque and the Sublime. These were soon to be joined by the new Romanticism as typified by the poetic works of William Wordsworth.

The young Turner was much influenced by all these developments and by his twenties had acquired some fame for the originality of much of his work. Two aspects may be stressed: his elevating of the use of watercolour for serious landscape painting and not just as a polite hobby for young ladies, and his notable transformation of landscape itself into a morally uplifting, soul-inspiring form of art, playing the part which the prestigious ‘History’ painting, with its reliance on Classical themes, had traditionally occupied.

These two important developments were pioneered in large part by Turner's experiences in Yorkshire from 1797 to 1824. In these years he enjoyed the patronage first of Edward Lascelles, the heir to Harewood, and, after 1808, of the radical landlord Walter Fawkes of Farnley Hall  near Otley. He became a close friend of the Fawkes family with whom he stayed most summers until 1824. These Yorkshire paintings, mostly watercolours, helped establish his reputation further.


Sam Smiles J M W Turner (British Artists series), London: Tate Publishing, 2000
Eric Shanes Turner's England, 1810-38, London: Cassell Illustrated, 1990
Andrew Wilton Turner and the Sublime, London: British Museum Press, 1980
David Hill Turner in the North, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1998 Anthony Bailey Standing in the Sun: A Life of J M W Turner, London: Pimlico, 1998
A J Finberg Life of J M W Turner, RA, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2nd ed., 1961
Jack Lindsay J M W Turner: A Critical Biography, London: Cory, Adams and Mackay, 1966


J M W Turner (1775-1851) Colour study of Mill Gill Fall near Askrigg, Wensleydale c.1816. Watercolour on paper. Photo: © Tate, London 2012.

By far the best way to do this is by visiting the Clore Galleries at Tate Britain on Millbank, London which holds the vast Turner bequest. It is possible to look at the Tate's Turner collection online at http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks?sid=75&ws=date&wv=grid

The Fawkes family still hold the watercolours of Farnley Hall. Some works, most formerly at Farnley, are now held in Leeds Art Gallery but are rarely displayed. They include the famous Bird Book.

Harewood House holds the two oils of Plumpton Rocks (which can be seen in the saloon) and the fine 1797 watercolours of the House and castle. These are displayed from time to time.

Welcome to Yorkshire has a dedicated set of pages dedicated to the landscapes that Turner painted during his visits to the county: http://www.yorkshire.com/turner

Malcolm Oxley