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Works Thomas Girtin and Joseph Mallord William Turner after (?) John Henderson

A Boat-Builder’s Yard, Possibly on the Medway

1795 - 1796

Primary Image: TG0832a: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), after (?) John Henderson (1764–1843), A Boat-Builder's Yard, Possibly on the Medway, 1795–96, graphite and watercolour on wove paper (watermark: J WHATMAN), 21.1 × 30.1 cm, 8 ¼ × 11 ⅞ in. Private Collection.

Photo courtesy of Sotheby's (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) after (?) John Henderson (1764-1843)
  • A Boat-Builder’s Yard, Possibly on the Medway
1795 - 1796
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on wove paper (watermark: J WHATMAN)
21.1 × 30.1 cm, 8 ¼ × 11 ⅞ in
Object Type
Collaborations; Monro School Copy; Work after an Amateur Artist
Subject Terms
Coasts and Shipping; Dover and Kent

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2008


Burstow & Hewett, 21 November 2007, lot 66 (catalogue untraced); Sotheby's, 5 June 2008, lot 206 as 'The Thames Estuary' by Joseph Mallord William Turner

About this Work

This view of a boat-builder’s yard, said to be on the Thames Estuary but probably the same Medway scene shown in TG0832, displays many of the signs that mark the unique collaboration between Girtin and his contemporary Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851) at the home of Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833). Here the two artists were employed across three winters, probably between 1794 and 1797, to copy ‘the outlines or unfinished drawings of’ principally John Robert Cozens (1752–97), but other artists too, including the patron’s neighbour, the amateur John Henderson (1764–1843), who lent his ‘outlines for this purpose’ (Farington, Diary, 30 December 1794). Henderson visited Dover in the autumn of 1794 and the ‘outlines of Shipping & Boats’ he made there, described by the diarist Joseph Farington (1747–1821) as ‘Very ingenious & careful’, provided the basis for a substantial number of copies of marine views commissioned by Monro (Farington, Diary, 1 December 1795). As with the copies the artists made after the sketches of Cozens, ‘Girtin drew in outlines and Turner washed in the effects’, with Turner receiving ‘3s. 6d each night’ though ‘Girtin did not say what He had’ (Farington, Diary, 12 November 1798).1

Girtin is not known to have visited Kent and his views of the county’s churches and marine scenery were copied after other artists. Though Turner travelled to Dover in 1793 and executed a series of studio watercolours after his own sketches, the majority of the coastal scenes sold from Monro’s collection that were associated with him, numbering as many as a hundred, were still produced from secondary sources (Exhibitions: Christie’s, 26 June 1833; Christie’s, 1 July 1833). Most of the Monro School coastal views were based on sketches made by Henderson in and around Dover, including A Boat on the Shore, near Shakespeare Cliff (TG0797), but there is no evidence that either this boat-building scene or two closely related drawings (TG0832 and TG0833) depict the south-coast port; indeed, these watercolours have traditionally been said to represent scenes on the river Medway. Though there is no internal evidence to link any of the group with the river in Kent, the identification was presumably based on a contemporary inscription and it is therefore likely to be correct. Girtin’s views of nearby Rochester (such as TG0057), also on the Medway, are based on compositions by his master, Edward Dayes (1763–1804). Though it is possible that these watercolours too were copied from one of the numerous sketches by Dayes that are known to have been in Monro’s collection (Exhibitions: Christie’s, 2 July 1833, lot 44), I suspect that they were executed from lost sketches by Henderson. The likelihood of Henderson being the source for this distinct group of Monro School subjects is enhanced by the existence of another version of this composition by the amateur artist himself (see TG0832b figure 1). It is possible that Henderson copied either of the two Monro School versions of the composition, but it is more likely that it was executed from his own outline drawing and that it was from this untraced sketch that the Monro School artists also worked.

The bulk of the coastal views and scenes of shipping sold at Monro’s posthumous sale in 1833 were attributed to Turner alone, but, despite the pioneering article published by Andrew Wilton in 1984, which established the joint authorship of many of the Monro School copies, this work was still listed as solely by Turner when it last appeared at auction in 1976 (Wilton, 1984a, pp.8–23). Neither the pencil work nor the economical addition of a limited palette of greys to the outlines are of the highest quality, but there is no reason to suspect that the view is not the joint work of Girtin and Turner, and whatever shortcomings there are can perhaps be put down to the time constraints the artists worked under at Monro’s house.

1795 - 1796

A Boat-Builder’s Yard, Possibly on the River Medway


1795 - 1796

A Boat on the Shore, near Shakespeare Cliff, Dover


1795 - 1796

A Boat-Builder’s Yard, Possibly on the River Medway


1795 - 1796

A Boat-Builder’s Shed, Possibly on the River Medway


(?) 1791

Rochester Castle, from the River Medway


by Greg Smith

Place depicted


  1. 1 The full diary entry, giving crucial details of the artists’ work at Monro’s house, is transcribed in the Documents section of the Archive (1798 – Item 2).

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