Joseph Mallord William Turner

Study of a Dead Pheasant and Woodcock Hanging against a Picture Frame


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Gouache, graphite and watercolour on paper
Support: 760 x 550 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXIII 358

Catalogue entry

Turner’s studies of pheasants include two heads made for the Ornithological Collection compiled at Farnley Hall, the Yorkshire home of his friend and patron, Walter Fawkes(for information about this project see the introduction to this grouping). Additionally, there are a number of smaller studies of dead pheasants not apparently directly related to this endeavour.1 The two unfinished sheets in the Turner Bequest depicting a dead pheasant and woodcock, of which this is one, are considerably larger (for the other see Tate D25482; Turner Bequest CCLXIII 359). Both studies appear to be purposeful still-life compositions as opposed to pieces functioning purely as natural history studies: here, the birds are strikingly arranged against a gilt picture frame or mirror. Anne Lyles suggested that these studies could relate to a still-life commission from Walter Fawkes that was never completed, noting Fawkes’s ownership of Dutch and Flemish still life and animal paintings as possible evidence for this.2 The large size of the two sheets and the carefully arranged nature of this composition in particular points towards a function beyond the colour studies themselves.
On this sheet Turner has crafted a masterly essay in handling contrasting textures; the plumage of the birds is captured in energetic and plentiful brushstrokes, while the relative flatness of the gilt frame and accompanying picture or mirror is demonstrated using much larger areas of smooth wash. The pheasant stands out from its setting due to its more detailed treatment but also thanks to a shadow shown to the lower left of it, denoted in greyish gouache. The bright blue of the pheasant’s head is in contrast to both the yellow of the frame and the warm browns of the bodies of both the birds.
It is possible that this study was made at Farnley Hall, as suggested by Lyles.3 Turner had made other bird studies at Farnley and participated in shooting parties at the house: he would certainly have had the opportunity to study dead game birds.4
For example, see the studies in the Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester and the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.
Lyles 1988, p.61.
Ibid, p.61.
Wilton 1979, p.373.
Hartley 1984, p. 45 under no.33.
John Ruskin, A Dead Pheasant; Victoria and Albert Museum object number D.397–1907.

Elizabeth Jacklin
September 2016

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