John Turpin was born in Dublin in 1945, educated at Blackrock College and studied art history at University College Dublin and the Courtauld Institute of Art in London. He was appointed professor of art history at the National College of Art and Design in 1975 and took over as its director from 1989 to 1994. He retired in 2005. He has written extensively on Irish art and has published books on the sculptors John Hogan and Oliver Sheppard,
as well as a history of the NCAD.