Shortly after the musician and glee composer John Danby died, aged 41, on 16 May 1798, his widow Sarah began a relationship with the artist JMW Turner, who was a near neighbour in Covent Garden. Their daughter, Evelina, probably named after the title character of Fanny Burney’s novel, was baptised at Guestling in Sussex on 19 September 1801. The register records her as ‘Evelina, daughter of William and Sarah Turner’. According to the 1861 census, she was born in Hastings. In 1811, a second daughter, Georgiana, was born.
In the early years of their relationship, Turner lived with Sarah for short periods of time at various addresses, but this was never a permanent arrangement and they never married. Turner did not spend a great deal of time with his daughters, although some of his friends reported seeing young girls with a family resemblance, from time to time, at his Queen Anne Street house and gallery. They are also thought to appear in some of his paintings, notably Evelina in 'Frosty Morning' (1813) and both in 'Crossing the Brook' (1815).
JMW Turner, Frosty Morning, 1813, Tate 00492 , digital image © Tate released under Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)
On 31 October 1817, sixteen-year-old Evelina married 28-year-old Joseph Dupuis, a civil servant, at St James’s, Piccadilly, under the name of Evelina Turner. Her mother, Sarah Danby, was a witness but Turner did not attend. Joseph Dupuis had a long career in the diplomatic service. In 1818 he was appointed British Envoy and Consul to Kumasi, part of the kingdom of the Ashanti (now Ghana). He became regarded as an expert on African affairs, although some of his superiors felt that he had made too many concessions to the Ashanti. Between 1819 and 1832, Evelina gave birth to seven children, four of whom survived infancy. In the 1840s the Dupuis family moved to Greece and then back to London in the 1850s. According to the census records, they were living at 44 Queen Square, Bloomsbury, in 1861 and at 135 Upper Kennington Lane, Lambeth, in 1871. Their unmarried daughter, Rosalie, lived with them at both addresses.
JMW Turner, Crossing the Brook, 1815, Tate N00497, digital image © Tate released under Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)
Dupuis had incurred heavy debts and, following the death of Turner’s housekeeper Hannah Danby in 1853, he applied, unsuccessfully, to manage Turner’s gallery in Queen Anne Street. Evelina had been left £50 in Hannah Danby’s will, with the stipulation that it was not to be used to pay her husband’s debts. She was amongst those who challenged Turner’s will and when it was finally proved in 1856, she received, in addition to £100 a year from the original will, annuities based on £3,333 worth of Turner’s 3% consols. This was clearly not enough because, in November 1865, Evelina wrote to Jabez Tepper, the solicitor who had represented various Turner cousins, asking for help to ‘alleviate the sorrows which oppress the last lineal descendant of the race of Turner, the surviving daughter of an artist of such repute’.
Dupuis’ debts must have been substantial because when Evelina died of a heart attack in Lambeth in 1874, a few months after her husband, she left an estate of less than £800 to her daughter Rosalie.
Selby Whittingham, ‘JMW Turner, marriage and morals’, The British Art Journal, Vol. 15, No. 3 (Spring 2015), pp. 119-125
Franny Moyle, The Extraordinary Life and Momentous Times of J.M.W.Turner (London, 2016)
Anthony Bailey, Standing In The Sun – a life of J.M.W.Turner (1997)
Turner’s restored house in Twickenham has reopened. Check the website for details.