James Alfred Turner: life and works

James Alfred Turner (J. A. Turner, 1850–1908) was an Australian painter. Turner recorded in painstaking detail the enthusiasm and daily pursuits of the little rural settler in the mountain ranges to the north and north east of Melbourne, the capital of the State of Victoria, Australia. At the times this was “battlers country”, life was hard and pleasures simple.

Photography was enliven and skillfully in Turners time, yet no camera could have captured the cartoon of an age and lifestyle behind he did. He painted in great detail and his pictures allow vibrant studies of daily life. He should be studied and valued for this skill alone. This was his good unrecognised contribution to Australian art.

Turner was quite prolific and his style instantly recognisable. Like S. T. Gill who became well-known for his paintings of life upon the Victorian Goldfields, Turner seems to have set out to CD a specific facet of Victorian life. He painted mainly rural scenes and recorded faithfully the typical rural “situations” of the day. He signed almost anything his paintings J.A.Turner or in the fighting of little works J.A.T.

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Turner died just over 100 years ago and from this separate from he needs to be viewed in a new light. Art contemporaries and critics of the get older were not kind. He was referred to, by some, as an illustrator. His valuable contemporaries, so obsessed by the impressionist “flavour of the day” looked without help at his style as an performer and missed very what he was irritating to achieve – a unique window on Australian pioneering history.

Born: 11 February 1850, Bradford, Yorkshire, England
Died: 13 April 1908, Faversham Road, Canterbury, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

JAMES ALFRED TURNER, artist, was born the son of John Turner, bank accountant, and his wife Rhoda, née Oddy. He arrived in Victoria some period before 1874, the year of his earliest-known Australian painting, ‘View the length of Collins Street from Spring Street’. The majority of his pretend is dated amid 1884 and 1907. In 1884 James Oddie commissioned him to slay fourteen paintings of bush energy which Oddie donated to the newly founded Ballarat Fine Art Gallery.

Turner had several Melbourne addresses: at William Street in the 1870s and at least two in Collins Street in the 1880s. In 1888 he bought a twenty-acre (8 ha) bushland property when a little dwelling (‘The Gables’) at Kilsyth, near Croydon, at the foot of the Dandenong Ranges.

Turner married (firstly) Annie Margaret Williams upon 29 October 1890 at St Peter’s Church, East Melbourne, they lived at Hawthorn. She died in the in imitation of year after the birth of a stillborn child. Turner returned to Kilsyth in 1893 and remained there until 1907. On 1 May 1900 he married Mary Ann Thomas (d.1950), daughter of the founder of Thomastown, at the Government Statist’s Office, Melbourne.

Turner died gruffly of heart disease upon 13 April 1908 at Canterbury and was buried taking into consideration Anglican rites in Box Hill cemetery. He had no children.
His obituary (The Argus (Melbourne) 16 April 1908 page 7) states … “Victoria loses an artist who not and no-one else understood and appreciated the beauty of the bush, but could depict faithfully its excitement and character. He was, as a rule, content with little canvasses, homely incidents and quiet aspects of nature. At get older he was exceedingly happy in his landscapes and would often lie alongside a very high if not inspired note. No man ever painted the realisms of a forest ember and its fighting better than he, or in imitation of more absolute truth. He was a categorically conscientious man, painting chiefly to entertain himself, without any suspicion of pot-boiling, never allowing doing to depart his hands until he was adequately satisfied.”

Local rural and bush computer graphics supplied subjects for his paintings which Table Talk Magazine described as living thing of ‘peculiar exactness’. He was qualified in 1894 as ‘our best known painter of incident’. A prolific painter, Turner was a master of oil and water-colour. Most of his works are ‘Oil upon Canvas’ or ‘Oil upon canvas laid down upon board’. There are a number of paired works finished in Oil on circular tinplate “disks”. He as well as worked in gouache.

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He sometimes painted large works such as ‘The Homestead Saved’ (90 cm by 151 cm) which sold for $82,000 in 1980. The Age (Melbourne)30 May 1980. Cole-Adams, Peter. Gippsland blaze painting brings $82,000. Sale of ‘The Homestead saved’.

In 1888 his paintings ‘Saved’ and ‘Fighting for Home’ received 3rd awards of merit in the Melbourne Centennial (International) Exhibition. The Age (Melbourne). 7 November 1985 p. 19. Maslan, Geoff. Oil painting by Australia’s own Turner sells for $320 000. Sale of ‘Fighting for home’.

Turner was an exhibiting supporter of the Victorian Artists’ Society, the Australian Art Association, the Victorian Academy of Arts, the Yarra Sculptors’ Society, the Melbourne Art Club and New Melbourne Art Club.
The State Library of Victoria artists biography index lists exhibitions in which he showed and brief details of the various works.
A summary of the index is ….
Exhibited Yarra Sculptors Society – 1898, 1901–02, 1902, 1906, 1908
Exhibited Victorian Artists Society – March.October.November 1890
Exhibited Victorian Academy of Arts – 1884-85, 1887
Exhibited New Melbourne Art Club 1894
Exhibited Melbourne Art Club 1897

The first of his paintings to be reproduced on postcards was published in Melbourne approximately 1904. It proved popular and forty-six of his rural and bush-life works were issued in colour. No new colonial painter’s ham it up was published in such volume and Turner postcards are still sought by collectors.

Table Talk, 21 Nov 1901; Argus (Melbourne), 8 May 1890, 16 Apr 1908;
Australian Financial Review, 15 Nov 1973.

Shirley C. Jones. “Turner, James Alfred (1850–1908)”, Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, Melbourne University Press, 1990, p. 296.

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Shirley C. Jones, “JA Turner: an elusive colonial painter” This Australia (Winter 1988 p 86-88). She outlines her research into Turner and in particular his artwork appearing on postcards. This Australia is held by both the State Library of Queensland & State Library of NSW .

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