The painting depicts the artist with Daphne Charlton at a farm in Leonard Stanley, Gloucestershire, during the spring of 1940. They had met the summer before at a cocktail party in London hosted by Christopher Nevinson, and shortly afterwards Daphne and her husband George embarked on a painting holiday to Gloucestershire with Spencer in July 1939, staying at the White Hart Inn. Here Spencer converted his bedroom into a painting studio and undertook a series of self-portraits with Daphne, as well as the first volume of the 'Scrapbook' drawings which became the basis for all his later paintings. Spencer credited his rejuvenation during this period to the Charltons' friendship, as before they had met he had been at a low ebb both physically and emotionally, being estranged from Patricia and divorced from Hilda, and under extreme financial pressures from his dealer, Dudley Tooth. When George was called away to his duties at the Slade School on the outbreak of the Second World War, Spencer and Daphne grew closer and embarked on a passionate affair which Spencer celebrates in the painting 'On the Tiger Rug' (sold in these Rooms on 6 March 1998, lot 100 for £584,500 (Private Collection)). Eventually Daphne's forceful personality and rather smoothering affection estranged Spencer and by 1946, the year in which he painted 'Turkeys', Daphne appears as a rather large and formidable figure against a somewhat diminuitive Spencer who gazes at her in awe.
The turkeys' polygamous lifestyle particularly appealed to Spencer, who described the scene at the farm on the reverse of the 'Scrapbook' drawing study, executed in 1940: 'The turkeys were in a quiet and rather grassy farmyard and stood in a group and swished this way and that full of a sense of their import and the females stood in the main apart and wondering while now and then one or two would venture to walk about among the males. Their harmony is felt in all they do love seems to be fulfilled all the time. Their state of life seems to be varied degrees of consummation but always that. There seemed to be no boredom but a continual and abiding consciousness of being each other's bliss and entire fusion. The male's behaviour is expressive to me in its variety of happenings, movement, changes of colour, displaying feathers of all shapes, sizes, and colours of its emotion of desire. The females do nothing in particular as they know by virtue of being female turkeys they are desirable'.