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Publisher's Summary

The life of one of Western art's most admired and misunderstood painters. 

J. M. W. Turner is one of the most important figures in Western art, and his visionary work paved the way for a revolution in landscape painting. Over the course of his lifetime, Turner strove to liberate painting from an antiquated system of patronage. Bringing a new level of expression and color to his canvases, he paved the way for the modern artist. 

Turner was very much a man of his changing era. In his lifetime, he saw Britain ravaged by Napoleonic wars, revived by the Industrial Revolution, and embarked upon a new moment of imperial glory with the ascendancy of Queen Victoria. His own life embodied astonishing transformation. Born the son of a barber in Covent Garden, he was buried amid pomp and ceremony in St. Paul's Cathedral. 

Turner was accepted into the prestigious Royal Academy at the height of the French Revolution, when a climate of fear dominated Britain. Unable to travel abroad, he explored at home, reimagining the landscape to create some of the most iconic scenes of his country. But his work always had a profound human element. When a moment of peace allowed travel into Europe, Turner was one of the first artists to capture the beauty of the Alps, to revive Venice as a subject, and to follow in Byron's footsteps through the Rhine country. 

While he was commercially successful for most of his career, Turner's personal life remained fraught. His mother suffered from mental illness and was committed to Bedlam. Turner never married but had several long-term mistresses and illegitimate daughters. His erotic drawings were numerous but were covered up by prurient Victorians after his death. 

Turner's late, impressionistic work was held up by his Victorian detractors as examples of a creeping madness. Affection for the artist's work soured. John Ruskin, the greatest of all 19th-century art critics, did what he could to rescue Turner's reputation, but Turner's very last works confounded even his greatest defender. 

Turner humanizes this surprising genius while placing him in his fascinating historical context. Franny Moyle brilliantly tells the story of the man to give us an astonishing portrait of the artist and a vivid evocation of Britain and Europe in flux. 

©2016 Franny Moyle (P)2016 Penguin Audio

Critic Reviews

“Was Turner the first popular artist of the modern age? Franny Moyle certainly believes so.... Ms. Moyle, who has previously written biographies of Mrs. Oscar Wilde and the Pre-Raphaelites, is excellent at establishing...stylistic contexts.... She has written a fine book, deftly weaving psychological detail, painterly observations and historical context.” (The Wall Street Journal)

“[Moyle’s] history flows attractively...her text keeps us aware of the Europe-wide wars.... These wars and the meteorological melodramas devised on his easel seem to complement one another, each shining a lurid stormlight on what Moyle dubs an ‘epic’ era. Her book stirs with its suggestions of the interconnections.... Moyle...lend[s] Turner a rounded and sympathetic persona.” (The New York Review of Books

“Moyle carefully documents Turner’s impact on European art, and she includes a selection of color plates to illustrate the evolution of his work. Turner’s unconventional life also makes fascinating reading. This biography is highly recommended.” (Historical Novel Society) 

What listeners say about Turner

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  • Overall
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Balanced biography of a complex artist

This meticulously researched biography paints a comprehensive chronology if Turner's life, relations, and the intellectual pursuits that accompanied his prodigious artistic output. A sober and fact-based analysis of Turner's life which carefully avoids the myths, hyperbole and cliches that have plagued Turner's legacy. The audio performance uses regional accents to add color and distinguish the various characters.

5 people found this helpful

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Terrible narration drags down adequate bio

Perhaps a biography of a Titan of graphic art like Turner needs to be enjoyed in print. Nonetheless, this audio book failed for me because of the breathless, weird narration. It's particularly bad with accents, which frequently sound like parodies. As for the content, I found, compared with other books I've read, that this bio seems to skirt some key points of Turner's personal life - and the hidden lives of some of his aristocratic patrons.

1 person found this helpful

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Fascinating life

Fascinating story and interesting historical understanding of Turners work in relation to his time. But the narrator has an annoyingly halting and upper class affectation I did not enjoy. How does he know that Turner spoke in such an accent?!

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Beautiful in every way

every listen adds new dimensions to this complex man capturing the beauty of the world around him. wonderfully written and performed.

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terrible...lifeless portrayal of turner.

if you,re interested by minutia, this book is for you. if you want to understand the artist, his times, and his craft, keep moving.

2 people found this helpful