Gillian Forrester on the Fascination with J. M. W. Turner

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J. M. W. Turner, a master of both oil and watercolors, remains one of the United Kingdom’s most revered artists. He also had an astonishingly vivid imagination, according to Gillian Forrester, Senior Curator of Prints and Drawings at the Yale Center for British Art. “Ultimately, the aspect of his personality and work that appeals most to me is that he had a strong creative vision,” she said.

As an expert in Turner, Forrester has published Turner’s “Drawing Book”: The Liber Studiorum, the catalogue which accompanied an exhibition at Tate Britain. She also contributed to the catalogue for the J. M. W. Turner exhibition in 2007 at the National Gallery of Art, Dallas Museum of Art, and Metropolitan Museum of Art and wrote entries for The Oxford Companion to J. M. W. Turner. She has lectured extensively about Turner at venues including the Yale Center for British Art, National Gallery of Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Kimbell Museum, Clark Institute, Dallas Museum of Art, and Yale University Art Gallery (in conjunction with the exhibition The Critique of Reason: Romantic Art, 1760–1860).

In addition to his innate talent, Turner had an incredibly industrious work ethic. A child of a barber, Turner came from a working-class background. Yet he developed an astonishing career, becoming the most well-known British artist ever.

John Constable, a fellow artist, was intensely jealous of Turner. After sitting next to him at a dinner at the Royal Academy, Constable wrote to his fiancée, stating what he thought of this artist, who later became known as “the painter of light.” Watch the accompanying video to learn just what Constable thought about Turner and his art. In this interview, Forrester also provides insights into the film Mr. Turner (2014), directed by Mike Leigh.