William Turner, OWS (1789-1862), known as 'William Turner of Oxford'
Though William Turner became known as ‘Turner of Oxford’ to distinguish him from J M W Turner, his work is very different from that of his better known namesake. While J M W Turner presented the natural world in all its dramatic variety, Turner of Oxford captured its intense stillness.
William Turner was born at Black Bourton, near Bampton, Oxfordshire on 12 November 1789. From 1803, he lived with his uncle, William Turner, at the manor house of Shipton-on-Cherwell, near Woodstock, and probably received his first drawing lessons from William Delamotte in Oxford. Following his move to London in 1804, he became one of the earliest apprentices of John Varley, living at his house in Broad Street, Soho, and working alongside William Henry Hunt, John Linnell and William Mulready.
Turner began to exhibit at the Royal Academy of Arts in 1807, and in the following year became the youngest member of the Society of Painters in Water Colours, to which he remained faithful until his death. He was also an early member of the Society for the Study of Epic and Pastoral Design (founded in 1808 by the Chalon brothers and Francis Stevens), though he resigned after thirteen meetings.
About 1812, Turner returned to Oxfordshire, and probably lived with his uncle at Shipton.
He soon established himself as a drawing master, giving lessons at the University of Oxford and around the county. His method was to take a watercolour through all its stages, giving it to the pupil to copy after each lesson. He often sketched the local countryside, in particular the meadows along the River Cherwell, and also anticipated artists of the Bristol School by working in the Leigh Woods in the Bristol area.
From the middle of the decade, Turner began to travel more widely, visiting Salisbury Plain, north Devon, north Wales, the Peak District and the Lakes; and then the New Forest (in the late 1820s), and the Sussex Downs, the Isle of Wight and the west coast of Scotland (in the 1830s). He never went abroad, and the Italian and Swiss scenes that he produced were worked up from sketches made by other artists.
From 1833, Turner lived at 16 John Street, near Worcester College, Oxford. In 1836, he began to exhibit watercolours that depicted the River Cherwell covered with water lilies; he continued in this attractive vein for two decades. He died in Oxford on 7 August 1862, and was buried at Shipton-on-Cherwell. Though he had married in 1824, his wife had died in 1851, and they had no children. His studio sale was held at Christie’s on 9 March 1863.
His work is represented in the Government Art Collection and numerous public collections, including the British Museum, The Courtauld Gallery, Tate and the V&A; and the Ashmolean Museum (Oxford), The Fitzwilliam Museum (Cambridge) and The Oxfordshire Museum (Woodstock).