Joseph Mallord William Turner

Study of a Teal with Outspread Wings


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour on paper
Support: 316 x 470 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXIII 340

Catalogue entry

This watercolour and pencil study captures a teal, a distinctive species of small dabbling duck, in movement. A related sheet also included within this section of the catalogue shows a teal flying (Tate D25464; Turner Bequest CCLXIII 341). Unlike many of Turner’s other natural history studies, both drawings depict a living, moving bird, leading John Ruskin to note the ‘brightness, refinement, and active energy in the drawing of the living bird’ (see also the entry for Tate D25464; Turner Bequest CCLXIII 341).1 There are numerous pencil lines surrounding the more finished part of the drawing showing the duck in varying positions, hinting at Turner’s process in capturing the lively pose he had in mind, and, by their very survival on the sheet, adding to the sense of movement. In contrast to these loose marks are a number of very highly finished areas, with the fine details of the feathers and beak depicted in great detail. While the shining green wing feathers are suggested with large brushstrokes, the fluffy feathers on the body of the duck are finely painted, with delicate black marks giving additional definition.
As Anne Lyles has noted, this watercolour is too large for the Farnley Hall Ornithological Collection that Turner made bird drawings for (for information about this project, see the introduction to this section), but it might still have been made at Farnley, the Yorkshire home of Turner’s friend and patron, Walter Fawkes.2 Certainly, like other drawings in this grouping, it relates to those made for the Ornithological Collection in terms of style, subject matter and, it is presumed, date.
Ruskin called this and other bird drawings by Turner ‘more utterly inimitable, than, so far as I know, anything else he had done’.3 Lyles pointed out that an additional outcome of Ruskin’s admiration of this and similar studies by Turner is found in Ruskin’s own drawings of ducks and birds made after Turner’s lifetime, notably his Study of a Dead Wild Duck of 1867 (British Museum, London).4
Cook and Wedderburn 1904, p.274.
Lyles 1988, p.61.
Ibid, p.61.
Ibid, p.66; British Museum accession number 1901,0516.1.

Elizabeth Jacklin
September 2016

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