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

A Coastal Scene at Dover

1796 - 1797

Primary Image: TG0854a: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802) and (?) Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), after (?) John Henderson (1764–1843), A Coastal Scene at Dover, 1796–97, graphite and watercolour on wove paper, 21.1 × 27.6 cm, 8 ¼ × 10 ⅞ in. Worthing Museum and Art Gallery.

Photo courtesy of Worthing Museum and Art Gallery (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) and (?) Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) after (?) John Henderson (1764-1843)
  • A Coastal Scene at Dover
1796 - 1797
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on wove paper
21.1 × 27.6 cm, 8 ¼ × 10 ⅞ in
Object Type
Collaborations; Monro School Copy
Subject Terms
Coasts and Shipping; Dover and Kent

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in October 2018

About this Work

This rather slight view of the harbour at Dover from a board walk, with vessels in the distance, 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 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 Dover and all of his views of the port and the adjacent coastline were copied after secondary sources, including his master, Edward Dayes (1763–1804). However, whilst Turner travelled to the town in 1793 and executed a series of studio watercolours after his own sketches, the majority of the Dover subjects sold from Monro’s collection, numbering as many as a hundred, were still produced after the work of other artists (Exhibitions: Christie’s, 26 June 1833; Christie’s, 1 July 1833). The source for this work has not been traced, but comparisons with the sketches used by the Monro School artists in the production of other shipping scenes – such as Dover Harbour: Fishing Vessels, Their Sails Drying (TG0798), which displays a similar interest in the life of the port and in the pictorial potential of vessels with their sails drying – suggest that it was an outline drawing by Henderson.

All of the views of Dover sold at Monro’s posthumous sale in 1833 were attributed to Turner alone, but, despite the publication of Andrew Wilton’s pioneering article in 1984, which established many of the Monro School subjects as the joint productions of Girtin and Turner, this watercolour is still described by its owner, Worthing Museum and Art Gallery, as solely by Turner (Wilton, 1984a, pp.8–23). In fact, enough of Girtin’s characteristic pencil work is visible right across the drawing to be reasonably sure of his involvement in its production. Indeed, if anything it is Turner’s contribution that might be questioned, since, although the colourist has employed the simple monochrome palette typically found in the Monro School Dover subjects, the washes have been applied with such speed and with a disregard for all norms of finish, particularly in the foreground, that an attribution to Girtin is surely worth considering. It may be that Turner was tempted to abbreviate his normal practice by the time constraints imposed on the artists working for Monro, but the rapid application of the darker tones, much of it with the tip of the brush, is more characteristic of Girtin’s style around 1796–97, and this has resulted in areas where the tones of grey create abstract patterns quite independent of any descriptive purpose.

1795 - 1796

Dover Harbour: Fishing Vessels, Their Sails Drying


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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