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

A Ravine In the Viamala, between Chur and Chiavenna

1794 - 1797

Primary Image: TG0495: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851) after John Robert Cozens (1752–97), A Ravine In the Viamala, between Chur and Chiavenna, 1794–97, graphite and watercolour on wove paper, 38.2 × 24.5 cm, 15 × 9 ⅝ in. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection (B1975.3.1218).

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 Ravine In the Viamala, between Chur and Chiavenna
1794 - 1797
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on wove paper
38.2 × 24.5 cm, 15 × 9 ⅝ in

‘Bridges & hollow Rock / over the Rhine in / The Via Mala / Between Coire & Chiavenna / in the Grisons’ on the back; '48' and '3' on the back

Object Type
Collaborations; Monro School Copy
Subject Terms
Swiss View

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001


Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833); his posthumous sale, possibly Christie’s, 28 June 1833, lot 80 as 'A scrap-book, containing 66 sketches in Switzerland, in blue and Indian ink' by 'Turner'; bought by 'Hixon', £21 11s 6d; ... Dr Crawford J. Pocock (1840–90); Herbert William Underdown (1864–1944), by 1923; his sale, Sotheby's, 7 July 1926, lot 94 as 'A Ravine spanned by a Bridge' by 'Turner ... after Cozens'; bought by 'Thomson' for £10; Leonard Gordon Duke (1890–1971); bought from him by Thomas Girtin (1874–1960), 1929, £10; given to Tom Girtin (1913–94), c.1938; bought by John Baskett on behalf of Paul Mellon (1907–99), 1970; presented to the Center, 1975

Exhibition History

New Haven, 1980, no.172 as ’In the Via Mala, Monro School: Thomas Girtin and J. M. W. Turner(?)’; New Haven, 1986a, no.113 as ’In the Via Mala’ by Thomas Girtin and Joseph Mallord William Turner


Underdown, 1923, unpaginated, as by Joseph Mallord William Turner; Girtin and Loshak, 1954, p.204 as 'Between Coire and Splungen' by Thomas Girtin; Sloan, 1986, pp.121-24; YCBA Online 'In the Via Mala, Between Coire and Splugen' by 'Unknown Artist, Monro School' (Accessed 06/09/2022)

About this Work

This view of a ravine in the Viamala (literally ‘bad path’), in the mountainous region of the Grisons, now known as Graubünden, 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 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

A Ravine in the Viamala

The view of the notorious stretch of mountain path with its precarious stone bridge crossing the Hinterrhein, was copied from a composition by John Robert Cozens (1752–97) that he executed as a small monochrome study (see figure 1) (Bell and Girtin, 1935, no.35), part of a group of eleven signed drawings all on the same scale and uniformly mounted with their titles inscribed by Cozens. In this case it reads ‘Via Mala in the Grisons’, a region now known as Graubünden that Cozens visited in September 1776 on the way to the Italian peninsular. Six of the compositions provided the basis for Monro School copies (see also TG0485, TG0492, TG0494, TG0503, TG0600), but as each are larger to varying degrees than the 26.8 × 18.7 cm (10 ½ × 7 ⅜ in) of the Cozens drawings it is clear that they were not used by Girtin as his source material. Moreover, one of the group titled by Cozens ‘The Approach to Martigny, Rhone Valley, Valais' (Leeds Art Gallery (13.88/53)) is based on a larger on-the-spot drawing dated 1776 now in the Sir John Soane's Museum (44/12/15). Cozens' outline measures 22.9 × 36.2 cm (9 × 14 ¼ in) and given that the Monro School copies invariably follow the dimensions of their source material it is not unreasonable to conclude that the rest of this group of drawings was developed from untraced sketches made by the older artist on his first visit to the Continent. Only one of Cozens’ sketches from this date has survived, but others from a year later are consistently large in scale and are generally little more than summary outlines (see TG0589 figure 1), which would have needed careful interpretation to create the ‘finished drawings’ that Monro required for his collection. In this case, we can be sure that Girtin worked from an untraced Cozens sketch because the Monro School watercolour contains much more of the composition, to the top and to the left, and the waterfall is shown with a level of detail that it would not have been possible to derive from the Cozens monochrome. 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, including another spectacular waterfall scene in the Viamala (TG0497). Girtin’s employment at Monro’s house may have been a mechanical chore, but in the longer term copying Cozens’ radically simplified Alpine views, such as this, provided him with a repertoire of compositions that might be applied to the sublime scenery of Britain, such as in The Ogwen Falls (TG1330).

Establishing the division of labour within a Monro School drawing is rarely straightforward, and this watercolour, in particular, has attracted a variety of opinions on its status and authorship. Thomas Girtin (1874–1960) and David Loshak argued that it is one of a handful of Monro School subjects derived from Cozens that could be described as ‘wholly the work of Girtin’, whilst Andrew Wilton thought that the colouring ‘may well be Turner’s’, adding a question mark after that artist’s name in the title line (Girtin and Loshak, 1954, p.204; Wilton, 1980a, p.61). Susan Morris ‘attributed’ the work to both artists, whilst Kim Sloan diplomatically labelled it ‘Monro School’ and ‘After’ Cozens (Morris, 1986, p.49; Sloan, 1986, p.124). In this instance, I am inclined to agree with Morris for the not very enthralling reason that I cannot see anything that deviates from the mass of the two artists’ collaborations – certainly nothing to contradict the very clear description of their practice at Monro’s house that Girtin and Turner themselves gave to Farington in 1798.

1794 - 1797

Lake Klöntal, the View Looking West


1794 - 1797

The Lake of Mezzola, near Chiavenna, Lake Como in the Distance


1794 - 1797

Castelmur Castle, in the Village of Bondo


1794 - 1797

Lake Como


1794 - 1797

An Unidentified Valley with Travellers, Possibly in Switzerland


1794 - 1797

Tivoli: ‘The Temple of the Sibyl’, Seen from Below


1794 - 1797

A Bridge over a Waterfall, near Chiavenna


1798 - 1799

The Ogwen Falls


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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