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

A Narrow Gorge Leading to the Grande Chartreuse

1794 - 1797

Artist's source: John Robert Cozens (1752–97), A Narrow Gorge Leading to the Grande Chartreuse, graphite and varnish on laid paper, 24.8 × 18.4 cm, 9 ¾ × 7 ¼ in. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection (B1977.14.4579).

Photo courtesy of Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection (Public Domain)

(?) Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) and (?) Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) after John Robert Cozens (1752-1797)
  • A Narrow Gorge Leading to the Grande Chartreuse
1794 - 1797
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on paper
23.5 × 18 cm, 9 ¼ × 7 in
Object Type
Collaborations; Monro School Copy
Subject Terms
French View: The Alps

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Auction Catalogue


Colonel Josiah Wilkinson; his posthumous sale, Christie's, 26 February 1912, lot 40 as 'A Rocky Ravine' by Joseph Mallord William Turner; bought with TG0718 by 'Nevile', £9 9s; ... Mrs V. M. Young; her sale, Sotheby’s, 20 November 1986, lot 89 as 'Attributed to' Thomas Girtin, unsold; Sotheby's 30 April 1987, lot 175 as 'Attributed to' Thomas Girtin, unsold

About this Work

This view of a narrow gorge leading to the Grande Chartreuse, the extensive monastery deep in the French Alps, was copied from a composition by John Robert Cozens (1752–97) (see source image above). Although it has not been possible to trace an image of the work, it appears from the 1987 auction catalogue that it was one of several hundred watercolours produced at the home of Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833). Here Girtin and his contemporary Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851) 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’. The resulting watercolours saw the two artists engaged in a unique collaboration; as they later recalled, Girtin ‘drew in outlines and Turner washed in the effects’. ‘They went at 6 and staid till Ten’, 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

Monro’s posthumous sale, in 1833, contained only twenty or so sketches by Cozens, so the patron must have borrowed the majority of the ‘outlines or unfinished drawings’ copied by Girtin and Turner. In this case, the source of the watercolour, a simple outline inscribed ‘Leading to the Grand Chartreuse – Octr-24.’, was almost certainly purchased at Cozens’ studio sale in July 1794 by Sir George Beaumont (1753–1827). As Kim Sloan has noted, Beaumont mounted ‘215 “tracings” or drawings on oiled paper’ in an album that he presumably lent to Monro, and it was from this collection, now at the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, that the two young artists produced more than fifty watercolours (Sloan and Joyner, 1993, pp.89–91). The source drawing was therefore traced by Cozens from his own on-the-spot sketch made on the return from his second visit to Italy, in 1783, when he travelled to the isolated Carthusian monastery high in the mountains at the behest of his patron William Beckford (1760–1844) (Bell and Girtin, 1935, no.423). The sketch is contained in the last of the seven sketchbooks that survive from the trip (The Whitworth, Manchester (D.1975.10.11)) and it was presumably traced by Cozens because the books were retained by Beckford. The spectacular setting of the monastery provided the subject for another Monro School watercolour, A Distant View of the Grande Chartreuse (TG0760).

The bulk of the works sold at Monro’s posthumous sale in 1833 were attributed to Turner alone, and this was the case here when the work was first sold at auction in 1912, though more recently it appeared on the art market as ‘Attributed to Girtin’. With no extant image of the work to hand, there is nothing that can be said about the change of attribution other than that at this point there is no reason to suspect that the work was not the product of the same division of labour that the two artists described themselves to Farington in 1798.

1794 - 1797

A Distant View of the Grande Chartreuse


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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