Joseph Turner was one of the most original painters of landscapes and seascapes in Europe. He invented new techniques to make skies and clouds look luminous and expressive. People at the time thought he might be insane because his pictures were so different from what other artists were doing.
Turner is also one of the greatest masters of British watercolour landscape painting and is commonly known as "the painter of light".
Turner started studying at the schools of the Royal Academy at the age of 14, and exhibited at the Academy nearly every year for the rest of his life. He was influenced by Claude Lorrain and studied Lorrain’s paintings obsessively. He also travelled extensively in Europe to find new scenes to paint.
The Fighting Temeraire (1839) was one of Turner’s great paintings, featuring a glowing sunset over a ghostly ship that had fought at the Battle of Trafalgar being towed away. Rain, Steam and Speed (1844) takes the idea further - the shapes on most of the canvas are hardly recognisable. It was a painting that would influence the Impressionists 30 years later.
His collection of finished paintings was bequeathed to the British nation on his death and some money to the Royal Academy of Arts. Since 1984 an annual Turner Prize has been awarded by the Tate. It recognises excellence and originality and like Turner himself, it is often controversial.