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J. M. W. Turner, Dulais Mill, 1796.

JOSEPH MALLORD WILLIAM TURNER, b. London 1775, d.1851, was the foremost English romantic painter and the most famous English landscape artist of his time. A prodigy, at the age of 14 he was a student at the Royal Academy of Arts and two years later exhibited at the Royal Academy for the first time. By 1799 the sale of his work had freed him from drudgery and he devoted himself to the visionary interpretations of landscape for which he became famous. In 1802 (during a brief negotiated peace with Napoleon) he made a trip to the Continent where he embraced alpine scenery. From then on he traveled constantly in England or abroad, making innumerable direct sketches from which he drew material for his studio paintings in oil and watercolor.

Turner made much of sublime and picturesque landscape. His art was prolific and varied; he worked in oils as well as watercolours, absorbing influences from Claude as well as the Dutch and experimenting with a variety of manners. His reputation in England -- enthusiastically promoted by the critic, John Ruskin -- remains exalted to this day. Yet -- to my eyes, at least -- his art is difficult to wholeheartedly admire. His colour can be crusty and dull or pallid and thin, his pictures sometimes undermined by drawing which seems improvident or curiously detached. Dulais Mill reveals his early mastery of watercolour, somewhat in a picturesque "Dutch" manner. Quite likely it was done up in the studio from sketches made on the spot.