cover image J.M.W. Turner

J.M.W. Turner

Peter Ackroyd, . . Doubleday/Talese, $21.95 (173pp) ISBN 978-0-385-50798-1

In the second volume of his Brief Lives series, which commenced with a biography of Chaucer, Ackroyd presents another major cultural figure, the English painter Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851). In straightforward fashion, Ackroyd outlines the career of this remarkable man, who progressed rapidly from his early years as a student at the Royal Academy to prominence as one of England's foremost painters, creating dramatic works in which he explored the glowing effects of light fused with air, water, fire and steam. Turner's paintings, which often approach abstraction, astounded and shocked his critics, causing some to say he was a madman, an assessment reinforced by his eccentric, irascible character. Ackroyd shows how the artist, who never married and lived all his life with his father —though he had secret liaisons and two illegitimate daughters—was obsessed with his art, but was also an astute businessman, opening his own gallery in London when he was only 29, cultivating prosperous patrons and speculating in land and houses, all the while turning out a multitude of dazzling oil paintings, watercolors and engravings. This is a short but intriguing introduction to the life and output of an artist who claimed that he knew of "no genius but the genius of hard work." Illus. not seen by PW . (Jan.)