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

A Ruined Tower in a Valley, near Chur

1794 - 1797

Primary Image: TG0491: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), after (?) John Robert Cozens (1752–97), A Ruined Tower in a Valley, near Chur, 1794–97, graphite and watercolour on wove paper (watermark: J WHATMAN), 18.3 × 24.8 cm, 7 ¼ × 9 ¾ in. Tate, Turner Bequest CCCLXXIX, 21 (D36648).

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 Ruined Tower in a Valley, near Chur
1794 - 1797
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on wove paper (watermark: J WHATMAN)
18.3 × 24.8 cm, 7 ¼ × 9 ¾ in

‘Near Coire in the Grisons’ on the back, by Thomas Girtin

Object Type
Collaborations; Monro School Copy
Subject Terms
Castle Ruins; River Scenery; Swiss View

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in January 2018


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

Exhibition History

National Gallery, London, on display up to 1904, no.710


Ruskin, Works, vol.13, p.640 as 'A Ruined Abbey (early)'; Finberg, 1909, vol.2, p.1244 as 'Ruins on a Hill' by Thomas Girtin; MacColl, 1920, p.138; Turner Online as 'A Ruined Tower on a Knoll in a River among Mountains' by Joseph Mallord William Turner and Thomas Girtin (Accessed 06/09/2022)

About this Work

This view of an unidentified ruined tower near Chur, 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 The watercolour is one of a group of fifteen or so Swiss subjects that were acquired by Turner at Monro’s posthumous sale in 1833 and that are now in the Turner Bequest at Tate Britain.

The title of the work comes from an inscription that is probably in Girtin’s own handwriting, and he presumably copied this from the drawing on which the watercolour is based. Although it has not been traced, the source is very likely to have been a sketch by John Robert Cozens (1752–97), who was in the area of Chur, also known as Coire, in September 1776, and whose drawing of nearby Sargans Castle provided the basis for another Monro School subject (TG0489). Cozens’ sketch was probably in the form of a simple, though large-scale, outline drawing, which would have needed careful interpretation to create the ‘finished drawings’ that Monro required for his collection. 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. The tower shown here is possibly that of Haldenstein Castle, which is on the river Rhine north of Chur. The architectural details of the ruin do not exactly match, but it is possible that, working from a simple outline drawing, Girtin simply misread the form of the structure. There is another possibility, however. Given that the watercolour is significantly smaller and more highly worked and coloured than the other Swiss views after Cozens, it may be that the inscription is incorrect and that the scene is actually Italian.

Establishing the division of labour within a Monro School drawing is made more difficult in this case by the strength of the colour washes, which leave little of the pencil work showing through. The inscription on the back of the watercolour is clearly by Girtin, however, and though Turner all but effaced his pencil lines, there is no reason to think that the work was not a collaborative effort.

1794 - 1797

Sargans Castle


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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