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Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art

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Late Works of J. M. W. Turner: The Artist and his Critics


An exploration of Turner's final, vital years, including new readings of some of his most significant paintings

The paintings and drawings Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) produced from 1835 to his death in 1851 are seen by many as his most audacious and compelling work, a typical example of "late style." In this study, Sam Smiles goes beyond late style, with its focus on formal qualities and assumptions about personal expression, as an explanatory framework for Turner's late works. Instead, he argues that Turner, in his final fifteen years, was an artist entirely engaged with his own times.

Smiles examines the artist's critical reception in these years and scrutinizes accounts that presumed Turner's physical and mental health collapsed in his seventies, to see what can be reliably said about his work as he aged. Emerging from this study is an artist who used his final years to consolidate the principles that had motivated him throughout his career.
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