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

A Distant View of the Alps, Possibly from Modena, with a Church amongst Trees

1794 - 1797

Primary Image: TG0690: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), after (?) John Robert Cozens (1752–97), A Distant View of the Alps, Possibly from Modena, with a Church amongst Trees, 1794–97, graphite and watercolour on wove paper, 16 × 23.8 cm, 6 ¼ × 9 ⅜ in. Tate, Turner Bequest CCCLXXVI, 5 (D36564).

Photo courtesy of Tate (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) after (?) John Robert Cozens (1752-1797)
  • A Distant View of the Alps, Possibly from Modena, with a Church amongst Trees
1794 - 1797
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on wove paper
16 × 23.8 cm, 6 ¼ × 9 ⅜ in

‘Mountains of the Grisons from the Walls of [...]’ on the back, by Thomas Girtin (the final word now illegible)

Object Type
Collaborations; Monro School Copy
Subject Terms
Hills and Mountains; Italian View: The North

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in January 2018


Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833); his posthumous sale, Christie's, 26–28 June and 1–2 July 1833 (day and lot number not known); bought by Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851); accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest, 1856


Finberg, 1909, vol.2, p.1237 as '"Mountains of the Grisons from the walls of Milan (?)"' by Thomas Girtin; Turner Online as 'Distant View of the Alps from ?Modena, with a Church among Trees' by Joseph Mallord William Turner and Thomas Girtin (Accessed 08/09/2022)

About this Work

This distant view of the Alps, possibly from near Modena, was bought by Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851) at the posthumous sale of Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833). It is one of several hundred drawings that resulted from the unique collaboration between Girtin and Turner at Monro’s home at the Adelphi in London. Here they were employed across three winters, probably between 1794 and 1797, to make ‘finished drawings’ from the ‘Copies’ of the ‘outlines or unfinished drawings of Cozens’ and other artists, amateur and professional, either from Monro’s collection or lent for the purpose. As the two young artists later recalled, Girtin generally ‘drew in outlines and Turner washed in the effects’. ‘They went at 6 and staid till Ten’, which may account for the generally monochrome appearance of the works, and, as the diarist Joseph Farington (1747–1821) reported, Turner received ‘3s. 6d each night’, though ‘Girtin did not say what He had’ (Farington, Diary, 12 November 1798).1

The old title of this work which suggested that the view was taken from near Milan derived from a misreading of the inscription on the back. Although it has not been possible to confirm either the location of the viewpoint as near Modena or the identity of what appears to be a significant monastic complex, it is likely to have been based on a sketch by John Robert Cozens (1752–97) who probably travelled this route on his return to England from Italy in 1779. Cozens’ sketch was no doubt in the form of a simple outline drawing, which would have needed careful interpretation to create the ‘finished drawings’ that Monro required for his collection. In all, there are as many as sixty Monro School views of the Alpine scenery of France, Switzerland and northern Italy that can, with varying degrees of certainty, be associated with Cozens’ first trip to the Continent in 1776.

Establishing the division of labour within a Monro School drawing is made more difficult in this case by the strength of the colour washes, which leave little of the pencil work showing through. The inscription on the back of the watercolour is clearly by Girtin, however, and though Turner all but effaced his pencil lines, there is no reason to think that the work was not a collaborative effort. The watercolour is one of a group of fifteen or so Swiss subjects that were acquired by Turner at Monro’s posthumous sale and that are now in the Turner Bequest at Tate Britain.

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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