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This sheet includes four studies of fish worked up with watercolour, the surrounding sketchy pencil lines revealing something of Turner’s working process. The individual characteristics of the different species of fish shown are drawn out in part through the colour palette: the more opaque appearance of the silvery-brown tench with their duller colouring is shown in contrast to the lightly handled trout and perch, which are enlivened with reds and a bluish sheen.
Turner is known to have spent time fishing at locations including Tabley House, Farnley Hall and Petworth. At Farnley, the Yorkshire home of his friend and patron Walter Fawkes, he made bird studies for a natural history project being compiled there: the Ornithological Collection (for more information about this project, see the introduction to this section). Anne Lyles has suggested that these closely observed studies of fish might also have been made at Farnley. Fawkes’s four-volume Synopsis of Natural History (1823) included a survey of fish, reflecting a keen interest in the subject. However, this was illustrated by Samuel Howitt (like Turner, a contributor to the Ornithological Collection).1 Ian Warrell has proposed the watercolour might instead relate to Hathersage in Derbyshire, the home of Turner’s friend James Holworthy, with whom he corresponded about fishing during this period.2
The study is thought to date from the early 1820s and cannot be earlier than 1821 due to the presence of a watermark from that year. It and a related preparatory study (Tate D25461; Turner Bequest CCLXIII 338) are perhaps, therefore, a little later than Turner’s bird drawings for the Ornithological Collection (Leeds City Art Gallery), which are usually dated c.1815–20. However, as Lyles has written, there is a stylistic affinity between the fish and bird studies in this section of the catalogue and those works certainly made for the Ornithological Collection3, suggesting that they date from around the same time.
See also the introduction to this section and the entry for D25520 (Turner Bequest CCLXIII a 5).