Elhanan Bicknell, Turner and “The Whalers”

I enjoyed falling upon this excellent article by Sarah Monks of the University of East Anglia about Elhanan Bicknell, Clarence’s father, and JMW Turner over The Whalers.

Read it in full at https://hoaportal.york.ac.uk/hoaportal/turnerwhaleEssay.jsp?id=307

Excerpt: And yet [Turner] was also looking to sell his whaling pictures, to a wealthy contemporary-art-loving patron, rendering up an artistic commodity designed to appeal but without selling himself into the bargain. In this case, that patron seems to have been Elhanan Bicknell, a man who had joined his family firm, manufacturing candles from the rendered body parts of whales.[3] The language that passed between Turner and Bicknell is telling. In January 1845, Turner invited Bicknell to his studio, “for I have a whale or two on the canvas”,[4] a bid which was successful when Bicknell bought the painting now in New York later that year, when he (Bicknell) wrote to an engraver, “Pray fasten your strongest hook into him [Turner] before he fairly takes water again or he may get so far and so deep down that even a harpoon will not reach him”.[5] The tensions between them came to the surface when Bicknell “found Water Colour” on the whaling picture he had bought, and returned it as an impure and adulterated oil painting, insisting that it be altered – to which Turner “looked Daggers”. Describing these events to his son, John James Ruskin claimed in turn that Turner’s use of watercolours on his oil paintings was evidence of his disregard for lasting artistic fame and his “stronger passion” instead for both “love of money” and “present effect & object”.[6]

The element of this story which is not recounted here is that Elhanan started it off by asking Turner to do his version of a picture that was in his possession already. Elhanan had a painting by his artist friend William John Huggins (1781 – 19 May 1845) entitlted Whalers (image above, in the collection of the late Mark Bicknell, all rights reserved) which played to Elhanan’s pride in owning shares in ships which sailed the Pacific Ocean to bring back the valuable whale oil which had made his fortune. As Turner’s skills became better acknowledged, and his patronage by Bicknell oin a firmer footing, Bicknell lent him the Huggins canvas and asked him to do his version of it. Turner’s The Whalers was the result and, yes, Bicknell turned it down.

Read Sarah Monks’ arfticle in full at https://hoaportal.york.ac.uk/hoaportal/turnerwhaleEssay.jsp?id=307

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  1. Pingback: Clarence Bicknell’s artistic family – Clarence Bicknell

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