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…despite his undoubted talent, Turner increased it a hundredfold by his perseverance and hard work. Children with any capability in whatsoever direction are so apt to take it for granted that they can do all that is required of them without any effort, and the joy of hard work remains unknown to them.
To Turner, art was the suggestion of the glorious beauties of the world around him, and the quickening of human interest in these beauties, not the exact representation of nature by which the realist school interpreted art.M. E. Davis, L’Umile Pianta, September 1911 (emphasis mine)
Among all of the paintings I studied in the darkness of my college art classes, J. M. W. Turner’s Rain, Steam and Speed is one that sticks out in my memory. I’m not a huge fan of the Romantic period and, admittedly, when I first saw it, I thought it was just a big blob of paint smeared all over the canvas. A kind of 19th-century attempt at abstract expressionism. But when my eyes wandered over the image and zeroed in on the clarity of the chimney of the engine, for some reason the painting burned itself into my memory and Turner now holds a permanent place in the halls of my imagination. It could also have been the rabbit….that didn’t hurt.
Today I’m offering a free picture study aid that includes this image as well as six others according to the AmblesideOnline artist study rotation. This 23-page picture study aid offers a brief summary of the early life of Joseph Mallord William Turner, key topics about seven of his paintings (including a few excerpts from L’Umile Pianta articles), and seven printable versions of the paintings (without artist names or titles) at the end.
I did not include resources in this one as I didn’t find any good children’s books on Turner that were actually available through my library. The Tate Museum has a series of art activity books for various artists and one of them is for Turner, though I have not seen it in person. The majority of his pieces were very innocent in content (some of his sketches not so much), so you could most likely get a good large-format art book of his works to look through with your children. I found The Life and Masterworks of J.M.W. Turner by Eric Shanes to be particularly helpful while writing this picture study aid and it does include large, color reproductions of his art.
Volume I of John Ruskin’s series on Modern Painters also discusses and compares Turner to other artists of his era in detail and can be found free online (there is also an abridged version that is good for quick reference).
This is by no means an exhaustive analysis or study of each piece, and that is intentional. I tried to keep it all very simple in the spirit of there being, “no talk about schools of painting, little about style; consideration of these matters comes in later life, the first and most important thing is to know the pictures themselves. As in a worthy book we leave the author to tell his own tale, so do we trust a picture to tell its tale through the medium the artist gave it. In the region of art as else-where we shut out the middleman.” (vol 6 pg 216)
For enjoying art with children in general, I also included a page of art sources that I’ve found particularly good:
For younger children, I highly recommend the Mini-Master series by Julie Merberg and Suzanne Bober. Also, the Touch The Art series by Julie Appel and Amy Guglielmo.
For both younger and older children, the Come Look With Me series by Gladys S. Blizzard is excellent.
You may download it below for personal use in your own homeschool (Ambleside Online, another Charlotte Mason curriculum, or otherwise). And as always, if you have any feedback or suggestions, I would love for you to fill out my feedback form!