Joseph Mallord William Turner

Study of Fish: Two Tench, a Trout and a Perch


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite, watercolour and bodycolour on paper
Support: 275 × 470 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXIII 339

Display caption

Fishing was something of an obsession for Turner (his rod is on display in Gallery 103) and earlier in his career Sir John Leicester of Tabley Hall had complained that Turner spent more time fishing than painting. He is also known to have caught fish near his Thames-side home at Twickenham, at Farnley Hall in Yorkshire, in the lake at Petworth, and at the Derbyshire home of his friend James Holworthy.

Gallery label, August 2004

Does this text contain inaccurate information or language that you feel we should improve or change? We would like to hear from you.

Catalogue entry

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).
Lyles 1988, p.12.
Warrell 1991 pp.26–7.
Lyles 1988, p.64.

Elizabeth Jacklin
September 2016

Read full Catalogue entry


You might like

In the shop