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

A Ship off a Mountainous Coast, Known as 'Monaco'

1794 - 1797

Primary Image: TG0682: Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851), after (?) Alexander Cozens (1717-1788), A Ship off a Mountainous Coast, Known as 'Monaco', 1794–97, graphite and watercolour on wove paper (watermark: J WHATMAN), 17.8 × 26.2 cm, 7 × 10 ¼ in. Private Collection.

Photo courtesy of Sotheby's

Artist's source: (?) Alexander Cozens (1717–86), Monaco, graphite on laid paper, 13.3 × 26.7 cm, 5 ¼ × 10 ½ in. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection (B1977.14.4544).

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 (?) Alexander Cozens (1717-1788)
  • A Ship off a Mountainous Coast, Known as 'Monaco'
1794 - 1797
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on wove paper (watermark: J WHATMAN)
17.8 × 26.2 cm, 7 × 10 ¼ in
Object Type
Collaborations; Monro School Copy
Subject Terms
Coasts and Shipping; Italian View: Northern Coastal Scenes

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Auction Catalogue


William Henry Hunt (1790–1864); his posthumous sale, Christie's, 16 May 1864, lot 315 as 'A Ship off a Mountainous Coast, Known as Monaco' by Joseph Mallord William Turner; bought by 'Daniell', £3 3s; ... Squire Gallery, London, 1934-37; Walter C. Hetherington (d.1978); his posthumous sale, Christie's, 14 February 1978, lot 113 as 'A Lateen-Rigged Vessel off a Rocky Coast, Traditionally Identified as Monaco' by Joseph Mallord William Turner, £3,800; Sotheby's, 11 July 1990, lot 63 as 'A Sailing Vessel off a Mountainous Coast, Traditionally Identified as Monaco' by Joseph Mallord William Turner, £5,500

Exhibition History

Squire Gallery, 1937, no.37


Bell and Girtin, 1935, p.36; Yarker and Stephens, 2018, p.122 as 'Elba'

About this Work

This view of a mountainous coastal scene, possibly in the south of France, was copied from a drawing probably made by Alexander Cozens (1717–86) (see the source image above). It was produced at the home of Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833), where 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 majority of 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 tracing inscribed ‘Monaco’, was almost certainly purchased at the sale of ‘Mr COZENS’ in July 1794 by Sir George Beaumont (1753–1827).2 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). Neither the 1794 auction nor Monro’s posthumous sale distinguished between Alexander and his son John Robert Cozens (1752–97), and, perhaps not surprisingly, it is generally assumed that the source for Monro School drawings such as this was provided by the latter, more famous artist. However, as Sloan has again pointed out, there is no conclusive evidence to say that all of the sketches in the Yale album are by the son. As with examples such as Vernazza, on the Coast near La Spezia (TG0677), the source for this work appears to be amongst a group of drawings that Alexander made on a coastal voyage on his way either to or from Italy in 1746 (Sloan, 1986, pp.127–28). There is no indication that John made a journey that would have enabled him to take views from aboard a vessel, though it is of course still possible that he was the executant of the source drawing here, albeit that he traced or copied it from an on-the-spot sketch by his father.

In spite of the inscription on the outline, considerable doubt has been raised about the identification of the scene as Monaco. A recent publication that included a drawing by Alexander Cozens, The Isle of Elba from the Sea, suggested that this work also depicts a view on that island; however, although there are indeed similarities in the compositions, these are not, in my opinion, sufficient to justify a change of title (Yarker and Stephens, 2018, p.122). An alternative suggestion was put forward when the Monro School watercolour was sold at auction in 1990, namely that the view is a ‘composite’. Thus, we have Monaco to the left and on ‘the right is the Tête de Chien taken from the Pointe de Ste. Hospice at St Jean Cap Ferrat’. The view at Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat certainly fits the scenery shown here much better than Monaco, and on balance I suspect that Alexander Cozens simply made a mistake when inscribing his coastal view.

The bulk of the Monro School copies sold at the patron’s posthumous sale were attributed to Turner alone, and, in spite of the pioneering article published by Andrew Wilton in 1984, Girtin is rarely given equal credit for more carefully worked examples such as this (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, and this, as far as I can tell from an auction catalogue, has effaced the traces of Girtin’s pencil work. The question then is, if nothing of Girtin’s work remains visible, does it follow that this watercolour departs from the general practice of the artists at Monro’s house (as they described to Farington in 1798)? Although the point can never be proved, I suspect that Girtin was still involved in the work’s production, albeit at the most basic level, tracing the outlines from the Cozens drawing; it was Turner’s more onerous task to obscure the essentially mechanical practice of replication and produce something that approximates to a finished work.

Another Monro School watercolour of a Monaco scene, showing the Villa Franca Lighthouse (see figure 1), is also based on an outline drawing from the album at the Yale Center for British Art (see figure 2). However, although the work has been attributed to Turner in the past, the quality of the colouring falls well below his standards, and there is no evidence that Girtin made the initial pencil drawing either. It is notable, however, for the inscription on the back of the sketch, which states that it was ‘Traced from a sketch of C. Gore Esq’. It is not clear who was responsible for adding this, but it may have been Tom Girtin (1913–94), who owned the watercolour and assiduously searched through the collection of Charles Gore’s (1729–1807) drawings at the Goethe-Nationalmuseum in Weimar looking for the source of the outline. His lack of success provides further encouragement for the idea that it was in fact Alexander Cozens who was the author of the outlines of coastal views that provided the basis for as many as ten Monro School subjects.

1794 - 1797

Vernazza, on the Coast near La Spezia


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)

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