J.M.W Turner, drawing of three mackerel (1818)

If the stories of nineteenth century master painter J.M.W. Turner having himself lashed to the mast of a ship in a storm is the stuff of art history legend, the artist’s studies of mackerel indicate a quieter side to his relationship with the sea. Composed of watercolour over graphite on Whatman Turkey Mill paper (Whatman, born in 1702, is celebrated as the inventor of wove paper - a precursor to modern writing paper), there is a delicacy and translucence to the fish which give them a ghostly, other-worldly quality. Turner’s signature paint-heavy brush marks, applied to damp paper using the tip of the brush, evoke the delicate mottling on the mackerels’ skin.


Sketch of three mackerel, J.M.W Turner (1818) via Ashmolean online

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