J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Flounder Fishing, Battersea (or Putney) c.1817-8

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Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Flounder Fishing, Battersea (or Putney) circa 1817–18
Copper plate, 217 x 296 mm; image 182 x 258 mm
Presented by William White 1910
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left Turner’s estate in the 1873 sale,2 when it was sold for eight guineas 3 to John Heugh.4 In all, eleven plates for unpublished prints were offered,5 and the present locations of some of these are known.6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.
The plate is worked in both aquatint and mezzotint, using both an acid resist and engraving tools to generate tone. There are also etched lines, put in after the composition had been begun, rather than as the first step customary in the production of the published Liber prints. This unusual combination and procedure has been taken as evidence of Turner’s working alone on the plate, as seems to have been the case with other unpublished – and unfinished – designs in the later stages of the project (see for example entry on drawing for Kingston Bank, Tate D08177; Vaughan Bequest CXVIII W).12 As Forrester has deduced from the dating of Turner’s lists including the subject (see below), he was probably working on it around 1817–18,13 though it is difficult to determine at what point it was begun after 1811 or when it was subsequently reworked, as described below; the provisional nature of some of the unpublished Liber plates has been seen as leading into the experimental chiaroscuro of the ‘Little Liber’ prints in the early to mid-1820s (see general Liber introduction).
There is only one recorded proof from Turner’s lifetime, in the British Museum, London.14 The pale aquatint in the sky and other delicate nuances evident at that stage were worked over with a mezzotint rocker; impressions printed by the etcher Seymour Haden ahead of the 1873 sale15 and another set from or before 1910 appear murky and crude by comparison, and appear to indicate that Turner abandoned further work on the effectively unfinished plate. Tate holds an early-twentieth-century photographic facsimile of the British Museum impression (Tate A01156), and ‘one of 27 impressions printed for Mr. William White’,16 presumably before he presented the plate to the collection in 1910 (A01157).
The composition is recorded, as ‘Flounder Fishing +’, in a list of published and unpublished ‘Pastoral’ subjects in the Liber Notes (2) sketchbook (Tate D12160; Turner Bequest CLIV (a) 25a). The ‘+’ probably indicates that the work had yet to be engraved; these notes (D12160–D12171; CLIV (a) 25a–31) were apparently made between 1808 and as late as 1818.17 It is apparently noted again, as ‘Putney doubtful’, in a list (now rubbed and difficult to decipher) of Liber works in progress around 1817–18 inside the back cover of the Aesacus and Hesperie sketchbook (Tate D40933; Turner Bequest CLXIX).18
As discussed, the composition was among the unpublished Liber Studiorum prints (Rawlinson/Finberg nos.72–91;19 see also Tate D08170–D08177, D25451; Turner Bequest CXVIII U, Vaughan Bequest CXVIII P, Q, R, S, T, V, W, CCLXIII 328, and Tate N03631).
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.
Blank, save for inscription.
Blind-stamped near-vertically, descending ‘G. HARRIS | No 31 SHOE LANE | LONDON’ bottom right

Matthew Imms
May 2006

How to cite

Matthew Imms, ‘Flounder Fishing, Battersea (or Putney) c.1817–18’, catalogue entry, May 2006, in David Blayney Brown (ed.), J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours, Tate Research Publication, December 2012, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/flounder-fishing-battersea-or-putney-r1131787, accessed 23 June 2024.