Joseph Mallord William Turner

Flounder Fishing, Battersea (or Putney)


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In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Copper plate
Unconfirmed: 220 × 290 mm
Presented by William White 1910

Catalogue entry

Estate of J.M.W. Turner, sold Christie’s, London, 28 March 1873 (923), £8 8s.
Bought by John Heugh
William White by 1910
(see main catalogue entry)
The composition was engraved for the Liber Studiorum but not published, and is unique in Tate’s Liber holdings in being represented by its copper plate, made (as were the forty-nine Liber plates now in the British Museum) by G. Harris of Shoe Lane,1 off Fleet Street, London, whose stamp appears on the back. Unlike the British Museum plates, it was not cancelled, and appears as it did when it left Turner’s estate in the 1873 sale,2 when it was sold for eight guineas 3 to John Heugh.4 In all, eleven plates for unpublished prints were offered,5 and the present locations of some of these are known.6
The design is based on that of Turner’s upright watercolour November: Flounder-Fishing, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1811 and subsequently in the collection of his patron and friend Walter Fawkes (now private collection, Japan).7 As no wash drawing of the usual Liber type is known (although Rawlinson mentioned an otherwise-unrecorded ‘very slight sketch of the subject in colours’ in J.E. Taylor’s collection),8 Turner may have worked on the plate directly from the watercolour, adapting it to the horizontal Liber Studiorum format by adding space on each side. The central boat and fishermen are very similar, as are those to the left in the original design, and were copied onto the plate the same way round (consequently appearing in reverse when printed). The two distant, narrow sails behind the nearest figure in the watercolour are here adapted by the addition of a third to create a more substantial vertical focus, while the bridge in the background of the Fawkes work is shown lower on the horizon here, and extends across the full width of the composition.
Although the background has usually been identified as Battersea, west of central London, since at least 1872,9 Gillian Forrester has proposed that it shows Putney, on several grounds:10 that it appears to be the Liber subject referred to in Turner’s notes in the Aesacus and Hesperie sketchbook as ‘Putney doubtful’ (see below); that the stern of the nearest boat in the Fawkes watercolour, inscribed ‘owners delight putney’, identifies its setting; and that a ‘Fawkes family tradition had it as Putney’; indeed, Finberg listed the watercolour as ‘Flounder Fishing, Putney Bridge’ in his catalogue of the collection, while acknowledging its original, non-topographical title.11 The timber bridge with its many piers may be either the one on the Thames at Battersea (subsequently depicted by Whistler, for instance in his painting Nocturne: Blue and Gold – Old Battersea Bridge, circa 1872–5: Tate N01959) or a similar structure at Putney, a little further up the river (as shown, for example, in an unattributed print in the Guildhall Library Print Room, London, p5393174); the bridges known to Turner at the two sites were subsequently demolished and replaced.
Luke Herrmann, ‘Harris, G.’ in Evelyn Joll, Martin Butlin and Herrmann eds., The Oxford Companion to J.M.W. Turner, Oxford 2001, p.136.
Catalogue of the First Portion of the Valuable Engravings from the Works of the Late J.M.W. Turner, R.A.; Comprising the Whole of the Impressions, Etchings and Some Engraver’s Proofs of the Liber Studiorum; Also, the Etchings of Some of the Steel and Copper Plates of Eleven Unpublished Subjects for the Same Work; the Copper-plate of Calais Pier, Engraved by T.O. Lupton; and Several Other Unpublished Plates, Late the Property of J.M.W. Turner, R.A., Christie, Manson and Woods, London, 24–28 March 1873, p.48 lot 923.
Ibid., MS annotation in Tate copy; Finberg 1924, p.358; pace Forrester 1996, p.155, as ‘£0.8.8’.
Forrester 1996, p.155.
Christie’s 1873, pp.47–8 lots 913–23, as ‘Copper Plates of the Unpublished Numbers of the “Liber Studiorum”’;
See Forrester 1996, pp.135, 136, 146 and 154, under nos.73, 74, 82 and 88 respectively.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.356 no.491, reproduced.
Rawlinson 1906, p.194.
[J.E. Taylor and Henry Vaughan], Exhibition Illustrative of Turner’s Liber Studiorum, Containing Choice Impressions of the First States, Etchings, Touched Proofs, together with the Unpublished Plates, and a Few Original Drawings for the Work, exhibition catalogue, Burlington Fine Arts Club, London 1872, p.50 no.89, proof exhibited as ‘Flounder Fishing, near Battersea.’
Forrester 1996, p.155.
Alex[ander] J. Finberg, Turner’s Water-Colours at Farnley Hall, London 1912, p.25 no.77.
See Lyles and Perkins 1989, pp.45–6, 49–50, and Forrester 1996, p.155.
Forrester 1996, p.155.
Ibid., p.155 no.89i, reproduced.
Finberg 1924, pp.357–8; 1873 impression (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) reproduced p.[356].
MS note on margin of Tate impression; this undated, anonymous note, carefully written in the style of engraved lettering, also addresses the Putney/Battersea issue.
Forrester 1996, pp.161–3 (transcribed).
Ibid., p.163.
Rawlinson 1878, pp.144–69; 1906, pp.169–96; Finberg 1924, pp.287–365.

Matthew Imms
May 2006

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