JMW Turner's rarely seen sketchbooks reveal how the great artist was inspired by the scenery in Isleworth, Brentford and Heston.

Rainbows arcing over the Thames at Isleworth, parishioners bowed in prayer at a Heston church, and a bustling Brentford Market Place all feature in Turner's rough sketches, which have been lovingly collected in a new book.

Timothy Spall's big screen portrayal of the genius unafraid to break with convention, Mr Turner, is currently showing to critical acclaim.

But a more intimate insight into the times and travels of possibly Britain's best-loved landscape painter, who died in 1851, is now available in Turner's Sketchbooks, by Ian Warrell.

The former Tate Britain curator spent months poring over 300 drawing pads bequeathed by the artist to the gallery in order to compile the book, which offers a new perspective on Turner's life and working methods.

 

As well as many sketches and paintings which laid the foundations for his masterpieces, Turner's sketchbooks contain more mundane details like scribbled financial calculations, lists of clothing, and stuttering attempts at poetry, which give a more personal insight into his world away from the easel.

"They give you an idea of not just where he went but the people he met, the clothes they wore and how they spent their time. You get really immersed in his life," says Mr Warrell.

As well as travelling extensively across Europe, Turner spent much of his time in what is now west London, which is where his good friend Henry Scott Trimmer grew up and later became curate at St Leonard's Church, in Heston.

The artist's sketchbooks include paintings believed to be of the church's arched interior in the late 18th century, before St Leonard's was rebuilt in the 1860s.

They also show labourers engaged in back-breaking agricultural work on the fields of Heston, and goods being traded at Brentford Market Place.

But perhaps the most stunning images are from the banks of the Thames at Isleworth, where Turner rented Syon Ferry House, just along from All Saints Church, in the summer of 1805.

As well as idyllic watercolours of boaters lazily making their way downstream under a brilliant rainbow, his sketchbooks from this period include studies for mythological heroes and heroines - believed to be the basis for celebrated works like Dido and Aeneas.

As Mr Warrell explained, the unspoilt views along the Thames, which provided a welcome relief from the frictions of the London art scene, induced dreamlike reveries which made their way onto Turner's drawing pads.

"In those days, the Thames Valley had these classical associations because poets like Dryden and Pope had written about it, and their works, coupled with the beautiful scenery, were a major inspiration for Turner," he added.

Turner's Sketchbooks also reveals how the artist was occasionally based at West End, Upper Mall, Hammersmith, from where he would take excursions along the Thames.

Alongside the sketches and paintings, are architectural drawings for Sandycombe House, in Twickenham, where the artist's father lived after it was completed in 1814.

* Turner's Sketchbooks (ISBN 978-1-84976-295-3), written by Ian Warrell and published by Tate Publishing, is available at all good book stores and online at www.shop.tate.org.uk