This self-portrait by the English artist Joseph Mallord William Turner was painted in 1799 when the painter was twenty-four years old. This portrait was presumably made to mark Turner’s election as an associate of the Royal Academy of Arts. The painting shows Turner under a dim light, against a black background which makes it resemble the productions of the previous art movement, the Baroque. His figure is centralized, and the sharp contrast of the artist’s face against the background is very characteristic of the works made by the artists of this preceding period.
Turner was accepted into the Royal Academy as a student ten years before he had painted this self-portrait. To pay for the studies he worked as an architectural draftsman, which means his technical skills were already reasonable as he started in the Academy. Sir Joshua Reynolds was one of Turner’s mentors in the Academy and helped to direct his artistic production to landscape paintings and marines. Turner showed talent and interest for the arts ever since he was a child. His production became even more prolific after he went to live with his uncle, for his mother had been hospitalized in a sanatory, and his father could not find the time to take care of him. The landscape sketches of this time, when he was about ten years old were exhibited in his father’s barbershop. Four years later he would be accepted into the Academy.
Turner’s mature works raised controversial reviews from artists and art critics of the time. He developed a style that was unlike any of his contemporary artists of the Romanticism. Some of his canvases show a rendering that resembles more the aesthetic of the Impressionists than that of the Romantics. The technique he applied to his oil paintings was the same he used in his watercolors. He would dilute the pigments in more binding materials than usual and apply them in layers. An interesting aspect of this self-portrait is that it contrasts with this approach that Turner had to painting, which has many strong aspects of the following artistic style. The contrast comes from the proximity to the previous style. It is as if Turner was the artistic link not only of the Romanticism with Impressionism but also of the Baroque with the Romanticism.
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