Turner’s foray into the art world began at a relatively early age. In 1789, following a probationary period, Turner started his education at the Royal Academy Schools, a group of educational establishments that had been set up to encourage the development of young artists. Turner’s father helped and supported his talent as a boy, allowing Turner to impress entry administrators at the school.
Although Turner came from a relatively wealthy background, he was expected to begin generating his own money to pay for his ongoing education at the Academy. In 1791, Turner turned his attention to the market for landscape and antiquarian topography, one that was flourishing at the time, and began selling watercolours for both exhibition and print.
In the years following school, Turner got into a routine, painting during the winter months at his purpose-built studio, and then displaying and selling his artwork at exhibitions in the summer. During those early years, Turner developed his focus on landscapes and topological drawings and featured in several publications, including Pocket Magazine and Copper-Plate Magazine. The young artists, however, was limited to how far he could go on tour, thanks to violent events in Europe, not least the French Revolution. In those early years, Turner displayed and sold his work in the Midlands, the North of England, and Wales between 1794 and 1799.
By the end of this period, Turner was already becoming widely recognised for the art prodigy that he was. In 1799 he was elected to the position of Associate of the Royal Academy, and by 1802, he was already an Academician. Although Turner had focused on architectural and landscape topology, it was around this time that he turned his hand to painting a self-portrait, now on display at the Tate Gallery in London.
Turner had already done well for himself financially, but it was in the years following the start of the nineteenth century that he began to flex his financial muscle. He moved from his old studio to a more upmarket address on Harley Street, and by 1804 had opened his own gallery nearby. Turner’s first gallery was designed to showcase his best works in a less crowded environment than at the Academy. Before long, several high-profile contemporary collectors were all vying to for Turner’s paintings, including the 3rd Earl of Egremont, and Walter Fawkes.
Throughout his life, Turner was influenced by a variety of social milieus. Although he never lost his cockney accent - as many other elite artists of the time had - he still moved in wealthy circles, particularly after becoming more successful in the latter part of the first decade of the 1800s. During a trip to Farnley, he visited Cockermouth Castle, brushing shoulders with the aristocracy, where he painted an image of the Seat of Sir JF Leicester, including the castle in the background, a sailboat, and foliage and waterfowl in the foreground.
Although Turner had had some success, his notoriety soon led to intensified criticism of his work. A famous art critic of the time, Sir George Beaumont, argued that Turner had “debased” the Old Masters. Others claimed that his paintings were little more than crude blotches, and lacked artistic merit, including the president of the Royal Academy itself. Turner, though, realised that criticism could be used to benefit his career. He seemed to revel in it on occasion, and set up rivalries with Beaumont and people like him, displaying his work at competing exhibitions in 1814.
As the years passed, the controversy surrounding Turner’s work did not go away. In 1836, many years into his career, Blackwood Magazine, run by Rev. John Eagles, published an article in staunch defence of his work. Turner soon developed a relationship with one of the magazine’s editors, who a few years later published a book, Modern Painters, which put Turner as the foremost artist of the time. The book was controversial, but it reveals just how divisive and revolutionary Turner’s art was.
By the mid-1840s, Turner’s health began to fail. But as he became more renowned and successful, so too did the eminence and pomp of his subjects. He had become the acting president of the Royal Academy but had to resign in 1846 because of health issues. Turner displayed his final two exhibits in 1849 and 1850 and became increasingly reclusive. Some years, he produced no work for the Academy exhibitions at all, preferring instead to spend time with his companion and housemate, Mrs Booth.
Today, investors from all over the world recognise Turner’s artwork for what it is: one of the best examples of English Romantic paintings, prints and watercolours. Investors love the combination of imaginative landscapes, chaotic marine scenes and his unique use of colour. Although Turner’s paintings were collectables at the time, they have become even more since his death. His most famous works include The Fountain of Indolence, The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Common, Juliet and Her Nurse, Neapolitan Fisher Girls Surprised Bathing by Moonlight, Snow Storm: Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth, and Peace - Burial at Sea, now on display at the Tate.
Investing in art has become increasingly popular in recent years. As the price of equities reach new highs relative to earnings, many people are wondering whether there are more secure and stable ways of storing their wealth. With more wealthy people in the world than ever before - many of them keen art collectors themselves - the role of art in any investment portfolio is becoming increasingly popular. Art, like gold, tends only to move upwards in value over time, with fashionable painters, like J M W Turner commanding impressive premiums. Data from auction houses, like Christie's, show that the value of art sold increases year on year, with a 10 per cent rise between 2011 and 2012 alone. 19th-century paintings performed best of all, putting Turner’s work in contention for your investment pounds.
If you are a novice to the world of art investment there are many online resources and galleries that can peak your interest. Take a look at this beginners guide to investing in art, and start from there. If you would like to jump straight in there are many auction houses you can go along to across London and the rest of the UK.