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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Ducks on a River, with Buildings on the Skyline, Perhaps near Bruges; ?Studies of Barges 1825

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Inside Front Cover:
Ducks on a River, with Buildings on the Skyline, Perhaps near Bruges; ?Studies of Barges 1825
Pencil on white wove paper, 155 x 95 mm
Inscribed in pencil ‘two poor ducks upon | a floating island of straw’ top left, ascending vertically, and ‘Bruges Canal’ bottom left, upside down
Inscribed in later hands in ink and pencil (see main catalogue entry)
Blind-stamped with Turner Bequest monogram above centre
Inscribed in pencil ‘CCXIV’ top left
Stamped in black ‘CCXIV’ top left
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
With the page turned horizontally, at the outer edge is a slight river view with a windmill and a spire in the distance. Likely in the foreground of the same scene, two small, ‘poor ducks’ are seemingly drawn and labelled ‘upon | a floating island of straw’. Turner occasionally used flying ducks as a punning visual symbol of the ‘Mallord’ (mallard) element of his full name, as in the oil painting Peace – Burial at Sea, exhibited in 1842 (Tate N00528),1 although the plight of the two here is unclear.
Below the centre, apparently inverted relative to the sketchbook’s foliation, are swiftly rendered sketches of a boat or boats, labelled ‘Bruges Canal’; compare the inscription ‘Bruges Barge’ on folio 216 recto (D19268) and notes under folio 214 recto (D19264). These studies and the landscape were perhaps drawn on the same occasion in the vicinity of the Belgian city; see under folio 218 recto (D19272). At the top right is a very brief continuation from the view of Dover on folio 1 recto opposite (D18841).
The latter quadrant, otherwise left blank by Turner, is taken up by the customary endorsement by the Executors of the Turner Bequest, Charles Turner, John Prescott Knight and Sir Charles Lock Eastlake, in ink ‘No 326 Contains | 280 Leaves – | Sketches in Pencil | on both sides | C Turner’ and in pencil ‘JPK’ and ‘C.L.E.’ The total of leaves appears to have been slightly inaccurate, as there are presently 282, making 564 pages (and two endpapers) of which only nine are blank. No leaf is blank on both sides, and six of the blanks form three double-page spreads at random points among sequences of related views; Turner presumably unwittingly turned two of the very thin leaves at once as he worked. In 1909 Finberg noted two leaves ‘torn out’ at the back,2 of which little trace remains (see under folio 282 verso and the rear paste-down: D19400, D40992). The tightly-bound page block appears otherwise intact; see the technical notes in the sketchbook’s Introduction.

Matthew Imms and Quirine van der Meer Mohr
September 2020

Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, p.248 no.399, pl.402 (colour); John Gage’s comments to this effect are noted ibid.
Finberg 1909, II, p.661.

How to cite

Matthew Imms and Quirine van der Meer Mohr, ‘Ducks on a River, with Buildings on the Skyline, Perhaps near Bruges; ?Studies of Barges 1825 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, September 2020, in David Blayney Brown (ed.), J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours, Tate Research Publication, March 2023, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/joseph-mallord-william-turner-ducks-on-a-river-with-buildings-on-the-skyline-perhaps-near-r1202192, accessed 13 June 2024.