Joseph Mallord William Turner
Life in Elmbridge
During Turner's sketching tour of the river Thames and Wey in 1805, he became interested in Walton Bridge. Turner sketched or painted the Thames in the Weybridge and Walton area on at least four occasions: 'The Thames at Weybridge' (c.1807-1810), 'The Thames near Walton Bridges', 'Walton Bridge on the Thames' (1829), and 'Landscape with Walton Bridges' (1845).
The development of Turner's artistic style can be seen in his Elmbridge paintings. His earlier works 'The Thames at Weybridge' and 'The Thames near Walton Bridges' display the detail and realism of traditional English landscape painting. However as we move forward nearly forty years, 'Landscape with Walton Bridges' devotes less canvas space to the detail of the Elmbridge landscape and more to the ethereal vista of the natural sunlight reflecting off the Thames, a hallmark of Turner's attempts to convey the spiritual nature of the world he lived in.
In this sense it is extraordinary that these collections of paintings of the borough can demonstrate the maturity in the career of the most celebrated painter in English history, providing a microcosm of Turner's life-long development from traditional landscape to early impressionism.
Life outside of Elmbridge
Joseph Mallord William Turner was born in Covent Garden in 1775. His early life was an interrupted affair; his mother's mental illness meaning he spent much of his formative years with his uncle in Brentford, and it is here that Turner developed his passion for painting. He entered the Royal Academy of Art schools in 1789, being accepted into the academy a year later. In 1799 Turner became an Associate Member of the Academy, and a full member in 1802.
His career in art can be split into three parts: the early years leading up to 1815, the middle period of 1815 to 1830, and the final years up to his death in 1851. Suitable themes were to be found in the subjects of shipwrecks, fires, natural catastrophes, and natural phenomena such as sunlight, storm, rain, and fog. He was fascinated by the violent power of the sea, as seen in 'Dawn after the Wreck' (1840) and 'The Slave Ship' (1840). Turner's early work stayed true to the traditions of English landscape painting, focusing on the intricacies of detail and tone as exhibited in 'The Shipwreck' (1805). Throughout the middle years and into the 1840's, Turner's work exhibits his devotion to light and the sublime nature of the world that epitomised the spirituality laced in his landscape work.
'Walton Bridge on the Thames' coincided with one of Turner's trips to Europe. Visiting Naples, Rome and Venice, Turner became influenced by the Italian devotion to light and emotion. Also by this time he was experimenting with different types of paint, resulting in 'Walton Bridge on the Thames', representing the crossroads of the detail of his earlier work and the early impressionism of his later works. These later works demonstrate his desire to communicate feeling through colour and light, a prime example of this being 'Rain, Steam and Speed - The Great Western Railway' (1844) that strove to express the spirituality of nature rather than the later French impressionism that responded primarily to optical phenomena.
Turner died in 1851 at the home of his mistress, Sophia Caroline Booth. At his bequest he was buried at St. Paul's Cathedral, bequeathing his collection of finished paintings to the British Nation, intending that a special gallery was to be built to house the collection. This part of his legacy however has never materialised, with problems surrounding the government of the time, as well as finding a location for the Turner collection resulting in the dilution of the collection into other galleries as well as private collections.