Turner’s Investment Records Found

April 21 2016

Image of Turner’s Investment Records Found

Picture: Eric Shanes/Bank of England

There's a new biography of J.M.W. Turner just published by Eric Shanes - 'Young Mr Turner, The First Forty Years 1775-1815'. It has already received glowing reviews, which is perhaps not surprising for Shanes has been working on the book for ten years, and is already well established as a Turner scholar. Shanes has kindly sent AHN this snippet of new research, having discovered Turner's investment details at the Bank of England. As you might expect, Turner was careful with the pennies.

Acting on a tip-off that the painter’s name had been spotted in Bank of England ledgers some years earlier, I have unearthed Turner’s investment records from the age of nineteen onwards. Naturally, the new financial data tells us a huge amount about Turner’s patronage, sales, career planning, and much else besides. 

The son of a humble Covent Garden barber, Turner showed signs of extraordinary talent at a very early age and began selling from the start. By 1794, when he was nineteen, he was able to make his first investment in government stock, and he went on doing so thereafter. Correlation between financial memoranda jotted down in his sketchbooks and Bank of England ledgers demonstrates that on many occasions he would invest a particular sum of money on the selfsame day he had sold a work for precisely the same amount. Clearly he never looked for quick or large returns; instead, what he sought was long-term security for his money, which is why he acquired government stock offering safe but low-yield dividends. By compiling a running total of Turner’s holdings, we are now able to pinpoint exactly what he was worth at any given moment. Thus on 23 April 1815, when he reached 40, he held exactly £10,186–8s–10d in government stock, all of which had been earned in the twenty-eight years since 1787. (By way of comparison, an ordinary labourer on a working-class average annual income of £26 would have earned a mere £735–10s during the same period, none of which could easily have been retained in the form of savings or investments.) Over the course of a career spanning sixty-five years or so, Turner became very wealthy, and now we can perceive how, when and why he did so.

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