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J.M.W. Turner (Ackroyd's Brief Lives #2)

3.65 of 5 stars 3.65  ·  rating details  ·  95 ratings  ·  17 reviews
In this second volume in the Ackroyd’s Brief Lives series, bestselling author Peter Ackroyd brings us a man of humble beginnings, crude manners, and prodigious talents, the nineteenth-century painter J. M. W. Turner.

Joseph Mallord William Turner was born in London in 1775. His father was a barber, and his mother came from a family of London butchers. “His speech was recogn
Hardcover, 192 pages
Published December 18th 2007 by Nan A. Talese (first published 2002)
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'Dido Building Carthage', exhibited at the Academy in 1815. Turner regarded this as his masterpiece and is reputed to have turned down 5000 guineas for it; it was still in his studio at the time of his death. He returned to the subject of Dido in four separate works of art.’ (p.88)

I bought Peter Ackroyd’s biography of Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) after watching the film Mr. Turner (2014) by Mike Leigh, staring Timothy Spall as William Turner at our local cinema. The film only covers
I had this short biography already at home and after seen the recent movie about Turner i wanted to know more about fact and fiction.
I was surprised by how many little things mentioned in this short biography were placed into the movie.
Peter Ackroyd writes engaging and takes you on the hand into the life of Turner.
Illustrated with some of his works this book is a little gem.
A brief, but in typical Ackroyd style, informative biography of Billy (surely not! - Joseph Mallord William is much more fitting) Turner who as well as being a great artist and much sought after in his time was quite an eccentric character - and what is wrong with that? A cockney who came to prominence very early, quickly became a member of the Royal Academy and who in later life disliked his famous contemporary John Constable, despite the latter's liking for Turner. Turner's choice of colours w ...more
I read this book, from the public library after seeing the file 'Mr Turner'. It is a relatively short book, easy to read, and I enjoyed it. I would have liked more illustrations, but it is after all quite a small sized book. Well worth reading.
This really is quite bad. A 'brief life' like this should be a little jewel of a book, instead this reads like a turgid Wikipedia entry. It's sloppily written, or at least edited. People are referred to as though for the first time, when in fact they were introduced just a few pages before. There's no real insight onto Turner as a person its mostly just a boring recounting of the public record. I loved 'London - The Biography'. Perhaps that was a labour of love, and this was dashed off to pay th ...more
Feb 13, 2010 Joan added it
In the second of his "Brief Lives" series, Ackroyd delves into the life of the man who was arguably England's greatest landscape painter. A Londoner to the core, he was the son of a barber and his mother's family were butchers. He began drawing quite young and, having initially apprenticed with an architect, entered the Royal Academy when he was only fourteen years old.

This little volume is jam-packed with information about Turner's rise to the top of the artistic heap, how he worked and taught,
Brief Life but packed full of information and written in Ackroyd's clear, easy to read style. He has a talent for inserting bits that describe his subject's personality and changing moods without laboring the point.

A much easier read than the very detailed James Hamilton Bio. but covers essentials.
I knew next to nothing about Turner, so this is a good, solid intro. The only problem is that the Kindle edition doesn't include prints of his paintings, only a few engravings. I believe Turner was a innovator and a genius, but I'd like to be able to look at his work while I read his bio.
Nov 04, 2007 Christina rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: art lovers, Peter Ackroyd fans.
Shelves: biography, 2007
Peter Ackroyd is one author I would like to become more knowledgeable about. I've read a little by him - English Music and about half of London - The Biography - but need to read more of his fiction. I loved the Turner section in English Music and Turner is one of my favourite painters so when I found this book in a bookstore, I had to get it.
Having read it, I must say I'm not disappointed. It's a short account of the life of J.M.W. Turner and Ackroyd brings this man vividly to life in these sho
Craig Smillie
Enjoyable. What comes through is Turner's unwillingness to accommodate bullshit - so he presumably came across as a grumpy old git to the high society types who were able to patronise his work, but there are enough clues in Ackroyd's text that he could be witty - and was certainly well able to talk entertainingly and in depth about the job of painting. Also interesting that most of his watercolours were NOT done on the spot but were worked up from rapid pencil sketches. Whatever: his watercolour ...more
Lukas Evan
Was inspired to read this by the recent film "Mr. Turner," which is excellent.
I need to own this book, so I can dog-ear pages and highlight passages. The fact that it's part of a "Brief Lives" series had me worried that it would be something akin to Cliff's Notes, but the writing is actually really really good, yet also succinct and (at least as far as I can tell) to-the-point & educational.
I learned a whole hell of a bunch, but mostly (and most importantly?) had fun reading this jaunty biography of an amazing artist.
Biography of JMW Turner - born and bred Londoner (Covent Garden), spent time in Brentford and Twickenham. Loved water and the river and light. Prolific painter and watercolorist, traveller, Royal Academician. Impression is that he wasn't the most likeable of chaps but perhaps was reserve more than animosity. Had a thing for widows. Loved his father who lived to a grand age and looked after his his son's affairs.
Cooper Renner
There are occasional signs of haste in the writing and editing of this 'brief life', but still it is an enjoyable (and hopefully accurate) overview of the life of an English painter I admire very much. One might wish for more color plates, but that would've made the volume more expensive, I suppose.
Turner's art fascinates me, I have a screensaver that is simply a slide show of some of his oils and watercolors, but I knew nothing about him. Now I know a lot, Ackroyd has done it again! I am getting addicted to his brief lives biographies.
I really enjoyed this book about J.M.W. Turner. It was an interesting account of a complex painter who lived for his art. Ackroyd writes very fluidly. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in art.
Jeffrey Greggs
Not Plutarch but I was in need of a slender bio and it did the trick.
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Peter Ackroyd CBE is an English novelist and biographer with a particular interest in the history and culture of London.

Peter Ackroyd's mother worked in the personnel department of an engineering firm, his father having left the family home when Ackroyd was a baby. He was reading newspapers by the age of 5 and, at 9, wrote a play about Guy Fawkes. Reputedly, he first realized he was gay at the age
More about Peter Ackroyd...

Other Books in the Series

Ackroyd's Brief Lives (5 books)
  • Chaucer
  • Newton
  • Poe: A Life Cut Short
  • Wilkie Collins: A Brief Life
London: The Biography The Canterbury Tales: A Retelling Hawksmoor London Under: The Secret History Beneath the Streets Shakespeare: The Biography

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“He is a Londoner, too, in his writings. In his familiar letters he displays a rambling urban vivacity, a tendency to to veer off the point and to muddle his syntax. He had a brilliantly eclectic mind, picking up words and images while at the same time forging them in new and unexpected combinations. He conceived several ideas all at once, and sometimes forgot to separate them into their component parts. This was true of his lectures, too, in which brilliant perceptions were scattered in a wilderness of words. As he wrote on another occasion, "The lake babbled not less, and the wind murmured not, nor the little fishes leaped for joy that their tormentor was not."
This strangely contorted and convoluted style also characterizes his verses, most of which were appended as commentaries upon his paintings. Like Blake, whose prophetic books bring words and images in exalted combination, Turner wished to make a complete statement. Like Blake, he seemed to consider the poet's role as being in part prophetic. His was a voice calling in the wilderness, and, perhaps secretly, he had an elevated sense of his status and his vocation. And like Blake, too, he was often considered to be mad. He lacked, however, the poetic genius of Blake - compensated perhaps by the fact that by general agreement he is the greater artist.”
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