Turner: Brief Lives
James Mallord William Turner was a Londoner through and through. His father had a barber's shop in Covent Garden, his mother came from a line of London butchers. He was brought up in Maiden Lane (the family moving at some point from the south side of the street to the north side).
He was short and pugnacious, and as Peter Ackroyd writes: 'His speech was recognizably that of a Cockney, and his language was the language of the streets.'His language was also the language of light, as exemplified in his most innovative paintings, which caused the critics of the day to come to blows. His dying words were: 'The Sun is God.' He entered the Royal Academy at 14 and a year later was exhibiting.
His first loves were architecture, engraving and watercolours, and the country houses, cathedrals and landscape of England; he came to oils through his new passion for Italy. He was mean with money, never married, and spent a lot of his life living in taverns. When he died (within sight of his beloved Thames) he was living under the name of Booth in the Chelsea lodgings of one of his mistresses, a Mrs Booth.
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