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J.M.W. Turner: Ackroyd's Brief Lives Kindle Edition

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Ackroyd has built his reputation with substantial biographies and big, bustling books, including London: A Biography (2001) and Albion: The Origins of the English Imagination (2003). He now turns his hand to an increasingly popular form, the brief life, and conveys with knowledge and panache the temperament and achievements of the great English painter J. M. W. Turner. Ackroyd writes sensitively of Turner's mother's mental illness and the painter's close relationship with his father, a London barber, who was so supportive of his determined son's brilliant career. Turner emerges from the page as a short, rather plebian--looking fellow who eschewed religion and seems to have been born to work, travel, and stay free of the entanglements of love. Ackroyd indelibly portrays the tireless, self-possessed Turner avidly sketching and writing somewhat incoherent verse, a "Cockney visionary" fueled by the same romantic sensibility as Wordsworth and Coleridge yet possessing a good head for business and a cosmic appreciation for light, fire, water, and storms. Ultimately, Ackroyd's pleasure in Turner's story becomes our own. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Product Details

  • File Size: 987 KB
  • Print Length: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Nan A. Talese (December 18, 2007)
  • Publication Date: December 18, 2007
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B000XU4SVE
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #383,066 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

26 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Grady Harp HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 22, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Peter Ackroyd is a fine writer and continues his Brief Lives Series with this insightful biography of one of England's greatest painters, J.M.W. Turner. But readers beware - this is a book about the artist's life and is not a book to examine the artist's works. But there are plentiful other resources for viewing the magnificent paintings of light that Turner created.

Ackroyd adroitly explores Turner's humble background, elaborating on how this most elegant gentleman of the canvas began as a Cockney lad with little formal education. When he was 14 he entered the Royal Academy and within a year's time he was exhibiting his work! Turner was a man of nature and his misty seascapes and landscapes of England have won him permanent status in the pantheon of great painters. He was fascinated by light and the effect that light has through mists and clouds, storms and tree filtered glades. He had a particular affinity for architecture and his early works are primarily in watercolor and etchings. His experience with oil painting opened with his introduction to Italy.

Ackroyd, with a zest for truthful telling, emphasizes that Turner's private life was spent in the taverns, fathering illegitimate children and maintaining a mistress. Apparently a miser, he was not the rarefied 'gentleman' his paintings would suggest.

This is a fine little biography, filled with the facts about the personal life of Turner and a bit lacking on his artistic influences, but as an adjunct to other volumes on his work, books that neglect to look at the man holding the brush, this succinct 'life' affords important insights. Grady Harp, July 06
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Yural Bayet on May 6, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Peter Ackroyd's BRIEF LIVES:J M W TURNER has only one fault - it is too brief.
I enjoyed reading it very much and came to the end of the book far too quickly. Ackroyd provides a glimpse into the private life of Turner: his habits and faults - like his reputation for thrift and his lack of patience for anything but work and his dearest friends.
The illustrations are very good and revealing. The illustrated profile of Turner by John Ruskin is excellent and reveals as much as any words can.
Yes, this book is a good buy and a good read for the Turner aficionados like myself.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Glynn Young VINE VOICE on December 20, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775 - 1851) was the foremost landscape painter of his generation, and early on he was recognized as such. Admitted to the Royal Academy of Art at a surprisingly young age, Turner had a significant impact upon his own generation, as well as the generations of artists to follow, including the Impressionists.

In "Turner," author Peter Ackroyd sketches a life of the artist that provides basic information about the man, his family, his career and his major works - short, straightforward and providing enough detailed information to provide some depth and understanding of the collection (including how the collection came to be at the Tate Britain).

The book, in fact, is one of Ackroyd's "brief lives." It is not exhaustive but then it is not meant to be. Instead, it is a chronological overview of its subject that gives an extended outline of his life and work. Other `brief lives" that Ackroyd has done include ones for Sir Isaac Newton and Geoffrey Chaucer. (Ackroyd knows how to do an exhaustive biography - just pick up his "Charles Dickens," published in 1990.)

Don't let the "brief life" description mislead. Ackroyd has done his homework. He pulls from letters, contemporary accounts, the writings of Turner admirer John Ruskin and others, and proceedings of the Royal Academy, among other sources.

In "Turner," Ackroyd presents an artist who produced an astonishing number of works over his lifetime, one who worked almost feverishly - much like Dickens later worked in literature and magazine publishing. Turner and Dickens seem to share another important characteristic - self-awareness of their place in their respective fields and how they wanted to be known after their deaths. And both men were producing significant and important work up to the times of their deaths.

It's a succinct, engaging biography of a great artist.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By SWM on November 26, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Tiny book, bought it for my boyfriend who read it in one sitting and quite liked it. Not a bunch of touchy feely mumbo-jumbo. Just a good solid bio.
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By tmd on July 27, 2015
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is a very good book that is short but full of information about the artist's life and work. Even though it is in the "brief lives" series, I felt it gave me plenty of the information that I wanted about Turner. After reading this book I saw the film "Mr. Turner" which covered most of the same subjects of this book. Next I am going to see the exhibit of Turner's late works at the De Young Museum in San Francisco. (There until 9/30/15.) I have seen a lot of Turner's works in London and they are well worth seeing. If you have only seen pictures of Turner's works and are even the least bit intrigued, you should see them in person. They are spectacular! Pictures don't begin to give the viewer the detail and feeling that one gets when viewing them in person. If you want to learn about the life of Turner, I highly recommend this book. Short but full of details. I read the Kindle version and it was fine with no errors to be concerned about. 5 stars!
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