Turner was born in central London, the son of a barber, and as a youth earned his living by colouring architectural drawings. From these modest beginnings he entered the Royal Academy Schools at the age of 14. The gifted, hardworking and ambitious young artist progressed rapidly, becoming an Associate in 1799. Within a decade he was a rising star of the British art scene.

Immensely successful in his lifetime, Turner owned several properties, kept a gallery to show his own works and often demanded high prices. Despite his artistic reputation Turner’s appearance was thought rather unprepossessing and many contemporaries found his manners uncouth.