Helen Turner was born in Louisville, Kentucky in 1858, Turner's childhood was drastically effected by the ravages of the Civil War; her father's fortune was wiped out and her mother died of a long illness in 1865. After her father's death only a few years later, Turner found herself orphaned at the age of thirteen, and she was brought up by her uncle, who may have first encouraged her early interest in art. Turner began painting at the age of twenty-two, and after the death of her uncle in 1890, she took a position as an art instructor at St. Mary's Institute in Dallas, Texas. During this time, she saved up enough money to enroll at the Art Students League in New York. Turner studied there from 1896 until 1899 with Kenyon Cox, Douglas Volk, and Arthur Wesley Dow. She also supplemented this instruction with classes at the Cooper Union Design School for Women and she traveled to Europe with William Merritt Chase on several occasions. From 1902 until 1919, she taught in the art school of the New York Y.W.C.A., training women for careers in the applied arts.
Turner’s work was characterized as “American Impressionist,” although unlike so many of the other adherents of that school, she completed her training almost entirely in the United States. The noted collector Duncan Phillips once described Turner as “a painter of unpretentious portraits, of landscapes with gentle girls in gardens, of the intimate hours of life in the seclusion of homes.” Although Turner's career had a somewhat later start, she did acheive significant recognition. She had the noteworthy distinction of being the third woman to be elected to full membership in the NAD in 1921. During her lifetime, she had a solo exhibition at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia, and her work is now in the permanent collection of numerous museums, including the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Chrysler Museum of Art, the Speed Art Museum, and the Phillips Collection.