Joseph Mallord William Turner RA, known as J. M. W. Turner and contemporarily as William Turner, was an English Romantic painter, printmaker and watercolourist, known for his expressive colourisation, imaginative landscapes and turbulent, often violent marine paintings. Turner was born in Maiden Lane, Covent Garden, London, to a modest lower middle-class family. He lived in London all his life, retaining his Cockney accent and assiduously avoiding the trappings of success and fame. A child prodigy, Turner studied at the Royal Academy of Arts from 1789, enrolling when he was 14, and exhibited his first work there at 21. During this period, he also served as an architectural draftsman. He earned a steady income from commissions and sales, which due to his troubled, contrary nature, were often begrudgingly accepted. He opened his own gallery in 1804 and became professor of perspective at the Academy in 1807, where he lectured until 1828, although he was viewed as profoundly inarticulate. He traveled to Europe from 1802, typically returning with voluminous sketchbooks.
An intensely private, eccentric and reclusive man, he was a controversial figure throughout his career. He did not marry, but fathered two daughters, Eveline (1801–1874) and Georgiana (1811–1843), by his housekeeper Sarah Danby. He became more pessimistic and morose as he got older, especially after the death of his father, after which his outlook deteriorated, and his gallery fell into disrepair and neglect. He lived in poor health from 1845, dying in London in 1851 aged seventy-six. He is buried in Saint Paul's Cathedral, London.
He left behind over 2,000 paintings and 19,000 drawings and sketches. He had been championed by the leading English art critic John Ruskin from 1840, and is today regarded as having elevated landscape painting to an eminence rivaling history painting. Widely considered one of the greatest masters of British watercolour landscape and marine painting, he is sometimes referred to as "the painter of light". A deeply experimental and progressive artist, his influence can be found in the works of painters as diverse as Claude Monet and Mark Rothko.