Joseph Mallord William Turner

A Dead Kingfisher


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 179 x 254 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CXXXIV 1

Catalogue entry

As Finberg noted,1 this slight sketch of a kingfisher is the basis of a finished watercolour (Leeds City Art Gallery),2 which shows the bird in the same arrangement with its feet at the top, head at the bottom and left wing spread out to the right. The beak is shown in two positions here, the firmer outline of one alternative reflecting its position in the finished design. This seems to be the only surviving pencil sketch for the watercolours made for Turner’s Yorkshire friend and patron Walter Fawkes of Farnley Hall, Yorkshire (see the sketchbook’s Introduction), for inclusion in a five-volume ‘Ornithological Collection’ from which Turner’s designs were subsequently extracted and regrouped as the ‘Book of Birds’, most of which (also now in the Leeds collection) were apparently drawn and painted directly from the specimens.3 For Farnley landscape and architectural subjects, see the entry for the verso of this leaf (D09790).
Turner’s executors’ note for this sketchbook is inscribed above the drawing. There is a large irregular patch of blue-grey watercolour on the sketchbook’s front paste-down opposite (D40879), which may be a colour test for the plumage in the related watercolour.

Matthew Imms
July 2014

Finberg 1909, I, p.381; see also Hill and Densley 1988, p.60; and Lyles 1988, pp.30, 39, 57, 63.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.373, not numbered but listed in Introduction to section X(e); Hill and Densley 1988, p.60, reproduced in colour p.[61].
See Introduction to section on ‘game birds’ in Wilton 1979, p.373, Hill and Densley 1988, p.60, and Lyles 1988, pp.39, 57.

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