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

A View on the River Tiber, North of Rome

1794 - 1797

Primary Image: TG0648: (?) Thomas Girtin (1775–1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), after (?) John Robert Cozens (1752–97), A View on the River Tiber, North of Rome, 1794–97, graphite and watercolour on wove paper, 31.9 × 50.3 cm, 12 ½ × 19 ¾ in. Tate, Turner Bequest CCCLXXV, 26 (D36547).

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 View on the River Tiber, North of Rome
1794 - 1797
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on wove paper
31.9 × 50.3 cm, 12 ½ × 19 ¾ in

‘Aqua acetosa’ on the back, by (?) Thomas Girtin

Object Type
Collaborations; Monro School Copy
Subject Terms
Italian View: Modern Rome

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 '"Acqua Acetosa"' by Thomas Girtin; Wilton, 1984a, p.18; Turner Online as 'On the River Acquacetosa' by Joseph Mallord William Turner and Thomas Girtin (Accessed 08/09/2022)

About this Work

This view along the Tiber at Acqua Acetosa, looking downriver back towards Rome, 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

As with the majority of the Italian views from Monro’s collection, it has not been possible to trace the source of either this river scene or another watercolour showing Acqua Acetosa (TG0647). However, even though only a small proportion of the sketches that John Robert Cozens (1752–97) made during his stay in Italy from November 1776 through to March 1779 survive, it is still likely that one of the numerous ‘outlines or unfinished drawings’ that he executed during his time in Rome provided the model here. Monro’s posthumous sale may have contained only a few sketches by Cozens, but, as Kim Sloan has argued, the patron must have borrowed outlines or tracings from purchasers at the auction of the artist’s work held in July 1794, which included twenty-seven ‘books of sketches’ and many hundreds of drawings made on his travels (Sloan and Joyner, 1993, pp.81–82). The idea that the Monro School works were based on Cozens’ watercolours, still occasionally repeated in sales catalogues, is clearly no longer tenable, not even when, as here, the copy is comparatively large. Not only is there no Cozens watercolour of this subject but also sufficient large-scale outlines survive, notably in the collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, and the Sir John Soane’s Museum, London (see TG0575 figure 2), to suggest that even the biggest Monro School drawings were not copied from his finished studio drawings.

A View on the Banks of the Tiber

Figure 1.
Francis Towne (1739–1816), A View on the Banks of the Tiber, 1780, graphite, watercolour and pen and ink on laid paper, 21.1 × 54.3 cm, 8 ¼ × 21 ⅜ in. British Museum, London (Nn,1.24).

Digital image courtesy of The Trustees of the British Museum (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0).

The old title of the work, ‘Acqua Acetosa’, which derives from Girtin’s own inscription, may be topographically correct, but it does not covey the full significance of the subject. Moreover, as Richard Stephens has shown in his online catalogue of the work of Francis Towne (1739–1816), the location can be narrowed down with some precision (Towne Online, FT172). A similar view by Towne (see figure 1), which shows more of the scene to the left, including the dome of St Peter’s, makes explicit that this is the prospect that would have greeted visitors from the north as they approached the city, with the Villa Mellini on Monte Mario in the centre. Taking the route south west along the Via Flaminia, travellers would arrive at the ancient Milvian Bridge (seen in TG0555). And, as with the other view of the river at Acqua Acetosa (TG0647), the same route out of the city to the Roman Campagna was also closely associated with the great seventeenth-century landscape artist Claude Lorrain (1604/5–82), who walked this way, sketched the scenery and incorporated the views into his idealised vision of a timeless Roman countryside.

The watercolour was acquired by Turner at Monro’s posthumous sale in 1833 and, along with many other Italian subjects, it entered the national collections by bequest. Monro School drawings were invariably sold in 1833 as by Turner, but the cataloguer of the Turner Bequest, Alexander Finberg, thought that Girtin alone was responsible for many of them, whilst more recently Andrew Wilton has established their joint authorship (Finberg, 1909, vol.2, p.1235; Wilton, 1984a, pp.8–23). In this case, however, Wilton has subsequently suggested in the online catalogue of the Turner Bequest that the ‘pencil drawing seems to be by Turner’, though he admitted that this was at odds with the inscription, which appears to be by Girtin (Turner Online, D36547). Admittedly, the pencil work is quite reticent, if not strictly functional, and it lacks the inventive flourishes that mark Girtin’s best contribution to the production of the Monro School copies, but there is no clear evidence that Turner was responsible for executing the outlines. A broad landscape view, in comparison with an architectural subject, simply does not require detailed pencil work, and there is nothing, it seems to me, to suggest that the watercolour is not the outcome of the same collaborative process practised by the two artists elsewhere.

1794 - 1797

On the River Tiber, at Acqua Acetosa


1794 - 1797

Rome: The Fortified Northern End of the Milvian Bridge (The Ponte Molle)


1794 - 1797

On the River Tiber, at Acqua Acetosa


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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