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

A Riverside Village, Possibly Gorle on the River Serio, near Bergamo

1794 - 1797

Primary Image: TG0689: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), after (?) John Robert Cozens (1752–97), A Riverside Village, Possibly Gorle on the River Serio, near Bergamo, 1794–97, graphite and watercolour on wove paper (watermark: WHATMAN), on an original mount (watermark: 1795), 17 × 22.7 cm, 6 ¾ × 8 ⅞ in. Private Collection.

Photo courtesy of Guy Peppiatt Fine Art Ltd. (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) after (?) John Robert Cozens (1752-1797)
  • A Riverside Village, Possibly Gorle on the River Serio, near Bergamo
1794 - 1797
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on wove paper (watermark: WHATMAN), on an original mount (watermark: 1795)
17 × 22.7 cm, 6 ¾ × 8 ⅞ in

'Bergamo' on the back of the mount

Object Type
Collaborations; Monro School Copy
Subject Terms
Italian View: The North; River Scenery

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in September 2023


Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833); his posthumous sale, possibly Christie’s, 2 July 1833, lot 131, as 'Bergamo, Salerno &c., 3' by 'Turner'; bought by 'Moon, Boys', £5 5s; ... Christie’s, 23 April 1844, lot 78 as 'Bergamo' by Joseph Mallord William Turner; 'Croker', 17s; John Murray III (1808–92); then by descent; Guy Peppiatt Fine Art, 2013-14

Exhibition History

Guy Peppiatt, London, 2013, no.20 as ’Bergamo’ by Joseph Mallord William Turner

About this Work

This view of a riverside village, probably on the river Serio near Bergamo, 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’, 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

As with many of the Italian views completed at Monro’s home, it has not been possible to trace the source of this image, one of three taken in the vicinity of Bergamo all seen from the river Serio, a few kilometres to the east (the others being TG0687 and TG0688). In general, Girtin and Turner worked from compositions by John Robert Cozens (1752–97) and, more specifically, from sketches and tracings that he made during or after his two Italian visits, in 1776–79 and 1782–83. The auction of the artist’s work held in July 1794 contained twenty-seven ‘books of sketches’ and many hundreds of drawings made on his travels, and, as Kim Sloan has argued, given that Monro’s posthumous sale included only a few sketches by Cozens, the patron must have borrowed the bulk of the material from which Girtin and Turner worked (Sloan and Joyner, 1993, pp.81–82).2 In this case, the Cozens sketch either has not survived or has not been recognised as his work, and nor is it entirely clear on which visit it was made. However, although Cozens made a series of views on nearby Lake Maggiore in 1783, the sequence of dated drawings in his sketchbooks from that trip do not suggest that he had time to make a diversion during his return to England, and Bergamo fits more easily into his itinerary in the autumn of 1776, when he journeyed through northern Italy on the way from Switzerland to Rome.3 When this drawing was exhibited at the gallery of Guy Peppiatt in 2013 it was titled Bergamo, no doubt because of the inscription recorded on the back of the sheet. However, it is clearly not a view of the picturesque hill town and the accompanying catalogue text suggests that it instead shows the nearby village of Gorle on the river Serio and that to the left is a ‘fortified tower’ that has subsequently been ‘destroyed in a fire’ (Guy Peppiatt, London, 2013, no.20). The first part of this sounds plausible, in which case we are looking north with the pyramidal form of Monte di Nese in the distance. However, the current owners of the work have conducted extensive research in the area of Bergamo and have found no evidence of a similar fortified structure; indeed, the distinctive form of the turret/lookout has been described to them as being entirely uncharacteristic of the military architecture of the region. The form of the structure on top of the massive wall is, however, reminiscent of another Monro School work, a larger, essentially monochrome, watercolour depicting Castel Sant’Elmo in Naples (TG0736). The castle’s massive wall to the right is likewise topped off by a turret, albeit more rounded in form, and I suspect that a detail such as this inspired Girtin to invent a more dramatic accompaniment for this north Italian river scene. Such a departure from the source material would be unusual, but as the example of the architectural composition based on the Milvian Bridge over the river Tiber illustrates (TG0553), it is not unique. The fact that the same building reappears in another Bergamo scene (TG0688), this time perched incongruously on a hill, tends to support the idea that its presence in this river scene was the result of an imaginative reconfiguration of the source material.

The bulk of the works sold at Monro’s posthumous sale in 1833 were attributed to Turner alone, and, despite the pioneering article published by Andrew Wilton in 1984 that established the joint authorship of many of the Monro School copies, this work was still listed as by Turner in 2013 when it appeared on the art market (Wilton, 1984a, pp.8–23). This is not entirely surprising given that the watercolour has been quite heavily worked by Turner with a full palette of colours, which has effaced much of the pencil work that might have confirmed Girtin’s involvement in its production. Nonetheless, there are arguably enough of Girtin’s characteristic touches still visible, particularly in the riverside buildings and the mounted figures, to be reasonably confident that the work is a typical collaborative effort and if the role of the draughtsman also included the addition of a framing device to the left this amounted to more than the basic task of tracing the outlines from a Cozens’ sketch. Nonetheless, it was Turner’s more onerous responsibility to obscure the essentially mechanical task of replication and produce something that more closely approximates to a finished work than is commonly the case with the Monro School drawings.

1794 - 1797

Bergamo, from the Banks of the River Serio


1794 - 1797

A Distant View of Bergamo, from the River Serio


1794 - 1797

Naples: Castel Sant’Elmo


1794 - 1797

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


1794 - 1797

A Distant View of Bergamo, from the River Serio


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).
  2. 2 A full record of the sale is available in the Documents section of the Archive (1794 – Item 1)
  3. 3 This is of course assuming that the source material was not a sketch by another artist, not least Alexander Cozens (1717–86) whose drawings were sold alongside those of his son, and without any distinction being made between the two, at the 1794 sale at Greenwood's (see the Documents section of the Archive, 9–10 July 1794).

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