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

A River View with a Hill Town Beyond, Possibly Showing Tivoli

1794 - 1797

Primary Image: TG0638: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), after (?) John Robert Cozens (1752–97), A River View with a Hill Town Beyond, Possibly Showing Tivoli, 1794–97, graphite and watercolour on wove paper (watermark: J WHATMAN), 28.5 × 41.8 cm, 11 ¼ × 16 in. Tate, Turner Bequest CCCLXXV, 18 (D36539).

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 River View with a Hill Town Beyond, Possibly Showing Tivoli
1794 - 1797
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on wove paper (watermark: J WHATMAN)
28.5 × 41.8 cm, 11 ¼ × 16 in
Object Type
Collaborations; Monro School Copy
Subject Terms
River Scenery; Unidentified Topographical View

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in December 2017


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.1235 as 'River, with an Italian town on hill beyond' by Thomas Girtin; Turner Online as 'An Italian Town on a Hill above a River' by Joseph Mallord William Turner and Thomas Girtin 

(Accessed 08/09/2022)

About this Work

This substantial view of an unidentified hill town, presumably somewhere in Italy, 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 Distant View of Tivoli, from the River Aniene

The subject of this view has not been identified, despite considerable efforts, and neither has a source been found amongst the compositions of John Robert Cozens (1752–97), nor, indeed, of any of the numerous British artists, amateur and professional, working in Italy at this date. The failure to discover the identity of what appears to be a major settlement is particularly frustrating, but it may be that the work is to some degree at least imaginary, or more accurately a capriccio based on various architectural elements brought together within a fictitious landscape. The skyline of towers punctuated with substantial elongated buildings certainly resembles that of Tivoli and, more specifically, the extensive structure to the middle right looks strikingly like the so-called Villa of Maecenas, which features in a number of other Monro School works (such as TG0592 and TG0594). But, as those views show, the ‘Villa’ is located on an imposing site high above the gorge of the river Aniene, and it seems particularly incongruous in this gentler setting. A distant view of Tivoli from the river Aniene by John ‘Warwick’ Smith (1749–1831) (see figure 1) illustrates that it is possible to show the city viewed from such a setting, however, and I wonder whether this is not the case here, with the Villa of Maecenas moved from its proper site to enliven a generic river landscape in the foreground. The manner in which Girtin and Turner radically changed the form of the Milvian Bridge over the Tiber (TG0553) suggests that, whilst the majority of the Monro School drawings were carefully copied from Cozens’ compositions, liberties might also be taken. I suspect that this is what we have here: a capriccio view based on the town of Tivoli.

Monro’s posthumous sale, in 1833, contained numerous scenes in the Roman Campagna attributed to Turner, many of which were acquired by the artist himself, as here. The cataloguer of the Turner Bequest, Alexander Finberg, thought that Girtin alone was responsible for watercolours such as this example, whilst more recently Andrew Wilton has established their joint authorship (Finberg, 1909, vol.2, p.1235; Wilton, 1984a, pp.8–23). This work is one of the most carefully worked of the Monro School watercolours that employ a simplified palette of blues and greys, and, with its carefully articulated group of shepherd and sheep to the right, it resembles one of Cozens’ own finished drawings. Nonetheless, enough pencil work is still apparent, particularly in the buildings to the left, where the paper has been left untouched to create highlights, for us to be sure of Girtin’s involvement in its production.

1794 - 1797

Tivoli: The ‘Villa of Maecenas’, Seen from an Elevated Viewpoint


1794 - 1797

Tivoli: The ‘Villa of Maecenas’ and Part of the Cascades, Seen from Below


1794 - 1797

An Architectural Composition, Based on the Milvian Bridge over the River Tiber


by Greg Smith


  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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