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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Two Swans ?1799

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Folio 8 Recto:
Two Swans ?1799
Turner Bequest XLII 15
Pencil, watercolour and gouache on buff laid paper, 125 x 174 mm
Inscribed in pencil ‘XLII 15’ bottom centre
Stamped in black ‘XLII – 15’ bottom left, descending vertically
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Like the study of a swan rising from the water on folio 7 verso opposite (D01689; Turner Bequest XLII 14), this drawing was probably made in the grounds of Fonthill Abbey while Turner was staying there to work on William Beckford’s commission in 1799.
John Ruskin compares an ‘academical’ Dutch artist’s rendering of a swan with that of the ‘colourist’, Turner:
To him the first main facts about the swan are that it is a white thing with black spots. Turner takes one brush in his right hand, with a little white in it; another in his left hand, with a little lampblack. He takes a piece of brown paper, works for about two minutes with his white brush, passes the black to his right hand, and works half a minute with that, and there you are!1
This is a shamelessly fictionalised account of the two drawings of swans in this book, which involve pencil outlines, black and brown watercolour and white gouache. It is not even clear that the swan rising from the water does so angrily or simply to commence flight. Ruskin was fond of singling out studies of animals for exhibition and analysis; compare the 1796 drawings of pigs in the Studies near Brighton sketchbook (Tate D00838–D00839; Turner Bequest XXX 93, 94). See also folios 6 recto (D01686; Turner Bequest XLII 11) of the present book.
Cook and Wedderburn 1906, pp.45–6.
Technical notes:
The paper is darkened from exposure.

Andrew Wilton
March 2013

How to cite

Andrew Wilton, ‘Two Swans ?1799 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, March 2013, in David Blayney Brown (ed.), J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours, Tate Research Publication, April 2015, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/joseph-mallord-william-turner-two-swans-r1173886, accessed 23 January 2022.