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Works Thomas Girtin and Joseph Mallord William Turner after John Henderson

A General View of Dover Harbour, from the East

1795 - 1796

Primary Image: TG0801: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), after John Henderson (1764–1843), A General View of Dover Harbour, from the East, 1795–96, graphite and watercolour on wove paper (watermark: J WHATMAN), 40 × 55.7 cm, 15 ¾ × 21 ⅞ in. Tate, Turner Bequest CCCLXXVIII, 8 (D36623).

Photo courtesy of Tate (All Rights Reserved)

Artist's source: John Henderson (1764–1843), Dover Harbour, graphite on paper, 39.8 × 54.6 cm, 15 ⅝ × 21 ½ in. British Museum, London (1935,0219.5).

Photo courtesy of The Trustees of the British Museum (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) after John Henderson (1764-1843)
  • A General View of Dover Harbour, from the East
1795 - 1796
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on wove paper (watermark: J WHATMAN)
40 × 55.7 cm, 15 ¾ × 21 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 January 2018


Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833); his posthumous sale, Christie's, 26 June 1833, lot 111 as 'Shipping in Dover Harbour in Indian ink (9)' by 'Turner'; bought by Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), £5 5s; accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest, 1856


Finberg, 1909, vol.2, p.1242 as 'Dover' by Thomas Girtin; Croft-Murray, 1935, pp.49–52; Wilton, 1984a, p.20; Turner Online as 'Dover: General View from the East' by Joseph Mallord William Turner and Thomas Girtin (Accessed 12/09/2022)

About this Work

This general view of Dover harbour from the east was bought by Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851) at the posthumous sale of Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833), one of as many as a hundred views of the town and its environs listed in the catalogue (Exhibitions: Christie’s, 26 June 1833; Christie’s, 1 July 1833). The watercolour was produced at Monro’s home, where Turner and Girtin 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 from Girtin and Turner 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 town were copied after other artists, including his master, Edward Dayes (1763–1804). However, whilst Turner travelled to the port in 1793 and executed a series of studio watercolours after his own sketches, the majority of the Dover subjects sold from Monro’s collection were still produced after secondary sources. In this case, the watercolour was copied from an on-the-spot sketch by Henderson inscribed ‘Back of Dover the Pent’, which was bequeathed by his son to the British Museum (see the source image above) along with other views of Dover. Indeed, overlaying images of the watercolour and its source suggests that Girtin actually traced Henderson’s outline, so close is the congruence of forms. The method employed by Girtin is not documented, but it probably involved the use of a strong light source to render the outline translucent so that it could then be traced onto another piece of paper laid on a piece of glass. It was then Turner’s rather more onerous task to add washes of blue and grey to produce a commodity somewhere between an on-the-spot sketch and a finished watercolour, or as close as could be achieved in the few night-time hours available to him at Monro’s house. In this instance, he seems to have found the time to render the reflections in the water and on the hulls of the vessels with more subtlety than was generally the case. It is also to Girtin’s credit that he was able to transcend a simple mechanical task and render his lines with at least some of the invention and individual character displayed in his on-the-spot sketches.

Henderson’s numerous Dover views are essentially variations on a few themes, with the same vessels, buildings, views and naval operations returning in different guises. In this instance, the amateur attempted a more general view than was generally the case, with the result that his limitations as an artist are more evident. The sketch possesses the same meticulous detail, which suggests that a mechanical aid such as a camera obscura was employed to fix the buildings and the vessels in the harbour, but the accumulation of forms lacks a coherent sense of space, something that is not so crucial in the close-up views of the port and its maritime activities. It is perhaps for this reason that Girtin himself recast the composition in another outline drawing (TG0802), which, though it is a careful copy of Henderson’s on-the-spot sketch, is not traced from the original and can therefore create a more satisfactory sense of recession.

The dual attribution of the Dover scenes to Girtin and Turner is a relatively recent practice. As with all of the Dover scenes sold from Monro’s collection, this watercolour was attributed to Turner alone at Monro’s posthumous sale (Exhibitions: Christie’s, 26 June 1833, lot 111). However, whilst the cataloguer of the Turner Bequest, Alexander Finberg, thought that Girtin was solely responsible for such works, the publication of Andrew Wilton’s pioneering article in 1984 has meant that the joint authorship of the Monro School subjects has become more generally accepted (Finberg, 1909, vol.2, p.1242; Wilton, 1984a, pp.8–23).

Image Overlay

1795 - 1796

Dover Harbour


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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