The 7 x 12½in (18 x 32cm) work is closely related to two colour studies of dead pheasants by Turner in the Tate collection and bears one of the gallery’s old exhibition labels to the verso.
All three are generally thought to date to the early 1820s, around the same time as Turner’s bird illustrations for a natural history project called the Ornithological Collection.
The five-volume Ornithological Collection was compiled at Farnley Hall, the Yorkshire home of Turner’s friend and patron, Walter Fawkes, who likely oversaw the project. Turner also took part in shooting parties at the house, sometimes staying for months at a time.
The critic and watercolourist John Ruskin was a great admirer of Turner’s ornithological and natural history drawings, praising the ‘ultimate refinements’ of colour and highlighting ‘the grey down of the birds and the subdued iridescences of the fish’.
Good starting point
This watercolour was consigned to Perth auction house Lindsay Burns (20% buyer’s premium) by a vendor whose family had owned works by Turner in the past. With no previous auction results to compare it to, auctioneer Nick Burns cautiously estimated the lot at £2000-3000 – “If the market thought more, then this would be a good starting point,” he said.
Pre-sale interest materialised into bids on the day with one potential buyer flying up from the London to take part. A bidder on thesaleroom.com took it to £13,500 but was trumped by a private buyer on the phone.