Joseph Mallord William Turner

Study of a Dead Tench


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite and watercolour on paper
Support: 233 × 450 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXIII 338

Catalogue entry

This watercolour and pencil drawing appears to be a preliminary study for a more finished work showing four fish (Tate D25462; Turner Bequest TB CCLXIII 339): the corresponding view of a tench, a lake and river fish and the single focus of this drawing, is seen at the top of the latter composition. Turner has used a limited palette of brownish greys to denote the main body of the fish, with the mouth and fins washed with pink and much of the belly remaining the white of the paper. The texture of the scales is suggested through cross-hatching on the body of the fish.
The paper is watermarked 1821, placing this and its related study a little later than Turner’s bird drawings for the Ornithological Collection (Leeds City Art Gallery), which are usually dated c.1815–20 (for information about the Ornithological Collection, see the Introduction to this section). However, as Anne 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 at Farnley Hall, Yorkshire, for the Ornithological Collection, suggesting that they date from a similar period.1 The study seems to have less relationship with Turner’s later watercolours of sea fish, despite the greater similarity of subject matter.2
Turner is known to have spent time fishing at Farnley, the home of his friend and patron Walter Fawkes, where, as per the above, he also made many of his bird studies. Lyles suggested that these studies might also have been made there, while Ian Warrell has proposed Hathersage in Derbyshire, the home of Turner’s friend James Holworthy, with whom he corresponded about fishing during this period.3
Lyles 1988, p.64.
These are usually dated c.1835–40. See Wilton 1979, nos. 1399–1404, p.468.
Ian Warrell, Turner: The Fourth Decade: Watercolours 1820–1830, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1991, pp.26–7.
Blank; inscribed in pencil ‘CCLXIII 338’, bottom centre.

Elizabeth Jacklin
September 2016

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