2025 marks the 250th anniversary of the birth of Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), possibly the most widely admired and influential British artist of all time.
Though Turner was trained within the English topographical tradition, his practice was deeply rooted in a wider European heritage of landscape painting. Turner pushed this inheritance to its limits in pursuit of his own expressive ends, astounding contemporaries with his bold and highly original compositions. His unique approach paved the way for a new form of landscape art, one that combined virtuoso brushwork with brilliant color, dazzling light effects, and an almost abstract sensibility. As a result, Turner came to be recognized as the most radical and innovative painter of his time and has continued to be so ever since.
This exhibition, the first show focused on Turner to be held at the Yale Center for British Art in more than thirty years, will showcase the museum’s rich holdings of the artist’s work. Unequaled in North America, this collection includes some of Turner’s most acclaimed oil paintings, notably his masterpiece Dort or Dordrecht: The Dort Packet-Boat from Rotterdam Becalmed (1818) and his celebrated later painting Staffa, Fingal’s Cave (1831–32). Alongside these major works, the exhibition will also feature outstanding watercolors and prints from the YCBA’s collection, including the artist’s only complete sketchbook outside of the British Isles.
Turner’s works are akin to painted poems, filled with incident, anecdote, and symbolism. Conveying both the beauty and cruelty of nature and human life, they shed fascinating light on the artist’s world and reveal an aesthetic—and moral—complexity that is at once discomforting and strangely modern.
The exhibition is generously supported by the Dr. Lee MacCormick Edwards Charitable Foundation.