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Turner was a very private man and never sat for an official portrait, so all the known images of the great artist were sketched quickly while he wasn’t looking. Millais made the last such sketch of Turner in May 1851, seven months before Turner’s death.
Millais saw Turner during the “Varnishing Days” leading up the public opening of the Royal Academy’s annual exhibition during which the exhibiting artists added final touches to their canvases. For sixty years Turner had participated, and, though he had no paintings in the exhibition in 1851, he still came for shoptalk with his brother artists.