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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Tail and Head of a Fish; Colour Trials c.1822-4

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Tail and Head of a Fish; Colour Trials c.1822–4
Turner Bequest CCLXIII a 5
Graphite and watercolour on paper 267 x 222 mm
Partial watermark ‘J Whatman | Turkey Mill | 1821’ (see technical notes in main catalogue entry)
Inscribed in pencil by John Ruskin ‘Tail & head of Fish, cut off | to get centre into sliding | frames. JR. 1862’ top left, upside down
Inscribed in red ink ‘cclxiii (a), 5’ | cclxiii, 383’ (now smudged)
Stamped in black ‘CCLXIII (a) –5’ lower right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
In 1862 John Ruskin removed what is now this separate sheet from what had been a larger one. This was to allow the display of the more finished watercolour study of four fish on the sheet in a smaller frame (Tate D25462; Turner Bequest CCLXIII 339). Ian Warrell has noted the connection between the partially seen drawing of a fish’s head to the centre right of this sheet and corresponding pencil lines to the left of the larger.1 On close examination very slight pencil marks can be seen on the left edge of the latter that correspond to those on the right of this one.
In addition to the pencil study of a fish’s head, which is perhaps an earlier sketch of the fish seen on the upper left of the more finished group, this sheet also includes tests that appear to relate to the colours used there.
Warrell 1991, pp.26–7.
Technical notes:
When seen alongside the sheet that Ruskin cut this piece from (Tate D25462; Turner Bequest CCLXIII 339), the paper appears discoloured by comparison. The watermark runs across both sheets, the majority of it now seen on this smaller sheet. A horizontal pencil line running along the top of both this and the other sheet suggest that both may have been cut down from a still larger sheet, possibly also by Ruskin.

Elizabeth Jacklin
September 2016

How to cite

Elizabeth Jacklin, ‘Tail and Head of a Fish; Colour Trials 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-tail-and-head-of-a-fish-colour-trials-r1186622, accessed 27 January 2022.