Finding Inspiration in Turner's Great Genius
The Independent Turner Society was founded by Dr Selby Whittingham with the aim of honouring Turner's Will and establishing the Turner Bequest in a separate Turner Gallery.
Whittingham had been an admirer of Ruskin and involved with the fine collections of Turner watercolours. He had originally launched the proposal for a Turner Society and Henry Moore became its president, and vice-presidents included the Earl of Harewood, John Piper and Victor Pasmore.
In 1939 the chief Turner scholar of the day, A.J. Finberg, wrote “We are not a dishonest
nation. When we do wrong, it is generally through want of imagination, from a narrow
or mistaken view of our duties, or from our readiness to adopt half-measures and
temporary expedients … We have undertaken to keep Turner’s Bequest together as a
collection of his works, and to house them permanently in a separate gallery. Our
responsibilities in this matter have been clearly defined and recognized by the highest
judicial authority. Successive Governments have pledged the nation’s honour to carry
out those obligations. And I firmly believe that every honest man would prefer to see
those obligations complied with rather than evaded.”*
We are still very far from achieving that aim.
The (Old) Turner Society was founded in 1975 by Selby Whittingham with support from
Henry Moore, Lord Clark of Saltwood, Sir John Betjeman and Sir Hugh Casson
amongst others to campaign for a proper Turner Gallery, which would do justice to
Turner’s wishes for that and to Turner’s status today. However in 1981 it was bounced
into endorsing the wholly inadequate Clore Gallery wing of the Tate, the pretensions of which to meet Turner’s wishes, to reunite his bequest and to show that to its best advantage, were utterly bogus. The “Old” (by some now known as “The Pussycats”) Society has become dependent on the goodwill and handouts of the Tate, which does not even keep to the
promises which it made for the Clore Gallery, but treats its part of the still divided Turner Bequest not
as a permanent gallery but as a resource to be exploited as suits it best.
There is a need for a society truly independent of the bodies concerned only to maintain the status
quo, one which is capable of pressing for justice for Turner and his public and of presenting the
Since 1988 J.M.W.Turner, R.A., Publications have produced newly researched information on aspects
of Turner’s bequests, his family, his topographical associations, the appreciation of his work by John
Ruskin and others.
In 1990 we organised an international conference in Paris on The Artist’s Museum. We have got the
statue of Turner in St Paul’s Cathedral restored and promoted the scientific study of his portraits. We have celebrated annually the anniversary of Turner’s birth and have held commemorations of his death in St Paul’s Cathedral and stimulated among English localities awareness of their Turner connections. Support is needed for this work to continue, and the Independent Turner Society’s aim is to provide that, while also organising occasional events, such as lectures, visits and walks.
The purpose of this website is to share knowledge and enthusiasm about Turner, and to build support the Gallery his genius so richly deserves.
*The Life of J.M.W.Turner, R.A. See Selby Whittingham, An Historical Account of The Will of J.M.W. Turner, R.A., for a fuller and more precise account of the obligations.
The Independent Turner Society commemorating the anniersary of the artist's death,
19 December 2003, by his memorial at St Paul's Cathedral.
The Monument to J.M.W. Turner, R.A., by Patrick McDowell R.A., c.1857-61, St Paul's Cathedral, South Transept (detail).