Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833) was a successful physician specialising in mental illness, one of those who treated King George III (1738–1820), and he succeeded his father as the principal physician at the Bethlem Hospital. Monro was also a keen amateur artist, producing numerous landscape sketches in the style of Thomas Gainsborough (1727–88). However, it is as a collector of old master drawings and prints and, more particularly, as a generous patron of contemporary artists that he is best known today. Beginning soon after his move to 8 Adelphi Terrace, London, Monro is recorded as employing ‘young men … in tracing outlines made by his friends etc.’ and it was said that his house was ‘like an Academy’ (Farington, Diary, 30 December 1794). Three years later, Girtin and his contemporary Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851) described their work at Monro’s in terms that make quite clear this was not an ‘Academy’ in the normal sense and that their work there had no pedagogical value. The diarist Joseph Farington (1747–1821) noted that Turner and Girtin had told him that 'They had been employed by Dr. Monro 3 years to draw at his house in the evenings. They went at 6 and staid till Ten. Girtin drew in outlines and Turner washed in the effects. They were chiefly employed in copying the outlines or unfinished drawings of Cozens &c &c. of which Copies they made finished drawings. Dr. Monro allowed Turner 3s. 6d each night. – Girtin did not say what He had (Farington, Diary, 12 November 1798). Given that we know from Farington that John Robert Cozens (1752–97) was ‘confined under the care of Dr. Monro’ following his complete mental breakdown in 1793–94, it has often been assumed that the patron gained access to Cozens’ studio and its contents (Farington, Diary, 23 February 1794). However, following the diligent work of firstly Andrew Wilton and latterly Kim Sloan, it is now clear that Monro owned very few of Cozens’ works and that Turner and Girtin had no privileged access to his finished watercolours (Wilton, 1984a; Sloan and Joyner, 1993). Indeed, it is likely that their only contact with Cozens’ works was through his tracings and outlines and that these were borrowed from other collectors who had bid at Cozens’ studio sale in July 1794. The outcome of Girtin and Turner’s three years’ work for Monro, amounting to about four hundred mainly monochrome drawings, appeared in the patron’s posthumous five-day sale in 1833 (Christie’s, 26–28 June and 1–2 July 1833), at which time Girtin’s contribution to the collaborative project went unacknowledged. Transcripts of the sale listed by day can be accessed here: Christie's, 26 June 1833; Christie's, 27 June 1833; Christie's, 28 June 1833; Christie's, 1 July 1833; Christie's, 2 July 1833.
Monro’s patronage of Girtin also followed a more traditional pattern in the form of commissions for larger framed watercolours of architectural and antiquarian subjects, though these had been disposed of well before the 1833 sale. The West Front of Jedburgh Abbey (TG1231) and Durham Cathedral, from the South West (TG0919) were no doubt amongst the two hundred ‘drawings framed & glazed’ recorded as being on the walls of Monro’s Adelphi house in 1797, and it is likely that his patronage helped to underwrite Girtin’s tour to the North East in the previous year (Farington, Diary, 14 April 1797). Moreover, John Linnell (1792–1882), who acted as the intermediary in the sale of Monro’s watercolours by Girtin, records that the patron had taken Girtin ‘out to one or other of his country houses or elsewhere to sketch for him from Nature’ (Story, 1892, vol.1, p.41). Though it has not been possible to substantiate this, a group of views of Surrey churches, including Capel Church (TG0857), may have been painted for the patron from sketches made on the spot.
1796 - 1797
The West Front of Jedburgh Abbey
1796 - 1797
Durham Cathedral, from the South West
1797 - 1798