the life of JMW Turner Wullschlager at the Financial Times:

When Joseph Mallord William Turner told a friend that “no one would believe, upon seeing my likeness, that I painted those pictures”, he pinpointed the tragic irony that would jinx every presentation of his life and work.

The contrast between the romantic ideals on his canvases and the personality of the gruff, stocky, beady-eyed, beak-­mouthed painter disturbed contemporaries: “uncouth but has a wonderful range of mind”, noted John Constable; “the exterior so belies its inhabitant the soul”, according to the American artist Thomas Cole. It led Turner himself to pathological feats of concealment. He hid his mother’s madness, his mistresses, his birthday, his address. “Tell the fellow to drive to Oxford St, and then I’ll direct him”, was how he outwitted a dinner-party host requesting his destination as he helped him into a cab.

Turner is still outwitting his stalkers. His secrecy, and embarrassment about his crudeness, has always forced either a defensive blandness — AJ Finberg, author of the standard 20th-century life, concluded that Turner was “a very uninteresting man” — or a sensationalising prurience. The two new biographers here try to escape the traps, mostly by amplifying historical context; neither wholly succeeds.

more here.