I have a whale or two on the canvas… Turner’s letter to Elhanan Bicknell

The famous letter of 31 July 1845 from Joseph Mallord William Turner to his patron Elhanan Bicknell is up for sale again. The asking price in February 2023 at Antiquariat INLIBRIS Gilhofer Nfg. is € 9,500.00, three times the hammer price of $ 2,750 in May 2017.

Turner was a frequent visitor to Elhanan Bicknell’s mansion in Herne Hill because he was the first to pay good money for his works. But there was on one occasion some tension between him and Bicknell. Turner had written to Bicknell, somewhat tongue in cheek, “My Dear Sir, I will thank you to call in Queen Anne Street at your earliest convenience, for I have a whale or two on the canvas.” Turner’s ‘Whalers’ now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, is one of four, and seems to have been painted and offered to Bicknell because of the latter’s involvement in whaling. Bicknell declined the picture, even complaining that when he rubbed it some chalk came off on his finger! It debuted to mixed reviews at the RA exhibition of 1845.

Turner, Joseph Mallord William, English painter (1775-1851). Autograph letter signed (“J. M. W. Turner”).London, 31.01.1845.

Source of text: Artist in Residence – Stephen Poyntz. Denning and the Herne Hill Art Set, by Brian Green. The Dulwich Society http://www.dulwichsociety.com/  Winter 2014. Relayed by us with further details at https://clarencebicknell.com/images/downloads_news/elhanan_bicknell_herne_hill_mb_22feb2019.pdf