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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Study of Fish: Two Tench, a Trout and a Perch c.1822-4

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Study of Fish: Two Tench, a Trout and a Perch c.1822–4
Turner Bequest CCLXIII 339
Pencil, watercolour and gouache on white wove paper, 275 x 470 mm
Partial watermark ‘J Whatman | Turkey Mill | 1821’ (see technical notes in main catalogue entry)
Blind-stamped with Turner Bequest monogram bottom right
Stamped in black ‘CCLXIII 339’ bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
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.
Technical notes:
The sheet was originally larger; the left part of the sheet, which includes a faint pencil drawing of an additional fish’s head as well as most of the paper’s watermark, was cut away by John Ruskin, but survives as a separate sheet in the Turner Bequest (Tate D25520; Turner Bequest CCLXIII a 5). A horizontal pencil line running along the top of both this and the other sheet suggest that both were cut down from a still larger sheet, possibly also by Ruskin.
Blank; inscribed in pencil ‘88’, upper right and ‘CCLXIII. 339’, bottom centre; stamped in black ‘CCLXIII–339’ bottom left.

Elizabeth Jacklin
September 2016

How to cite

Elizabeth Jacklin, ‘Study of Fish: Two Tench, a Trout and a Perch c.1822–4 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, September 2016, in David Blayney Brown (ed.), J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours, Tate Research Publication, July 2017, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/joseph-mallord-william-turner-study-of-fish-two-tench-a-trout-and-a-perch-r1186617, accessed 03 December 2021.