Turner: The Extraordinary Life and Momentous Times of J.M.W. Turner

Franny Moyle. Penguin Press, $35 (528p) ISBN 978-0-735-22092-8
In this excellent biography, Moyle (Constance: The Tragic and Scandalous Life of Mrs. Oscar Wilde) forges a largely successful effort to undo the traditional view of the 18th- and 19th-century British painter as a "reclusive, squalid, seedy, and eccentric" man with beady eyes and dirty secrets. Instead, Moyle argues, Turner was "an arch manipulator and central player in the great game of art." She traces his life from his earliest ambition to become a painter through his adventurous travels throughout Europe, witnessing the landscapes and seascapes he sketched and painted, to his final illnesses and last days. The backdrop is the French Revolution and the rise and fall of Napoleon Bonaparte. Rather than delving deeply into the lives of Turner's mentally ill mother, common-law wives, and neglected daughters, as other biographers have done, Moyle illuminates Turner's devotion to the Royal Academy, fellow artists, and art patrons, business acumen, and astonishing artistic innovations. She excels at art description, bringing his paintings vividly to the mind's eye (though she doesn't detail his erotic drawings). Readers looking for an art-lover's understanding of the man Moyle characterizes as "one of the most ambitious, inventive, technically brilliant, and popular artists of his time" will be well rewarded by this fine depiction. Agent: Georgina Capel, Georgina Capel Associates (U.K.). (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 09/12/2016
Release date: 10/25/2016
Genre: Nonfiction
Hardcover - 528 pages - 978-0-670-92269-7
Paperback - 528 pages - 978-0-241-96456-9
Ebook - 978-0-7352-2093-5
Paperback - 528 pages - 978-0-7352-2094-2
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Audio book sample courtesy of Penguin Random House Audio
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