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

A Wooded Valley near Bex in Switzerland

1794 - 1797

Primary Image: TG0600: (?) Thomas Girtin (1775–1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851) after John Robert Cozens (1752–97), A Wooded Valley, near Bex in Switzerland, 1794 –97, graphite and watercolour on paper, 23.5 × 36 cm, 9 ¼ × 14 ⅛ in. Private Collection.

Photo courtesy of Sotheby's (All Rights Reserved)

(?) Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) after John Robert Cozens (1752-1797)
  • A Wooded Valley near Bex in Switzerland
1794 - 1797
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on paper
23.5 × 36 cm, 9 ¼ × 14 ⅛ in

'14' lower right

Object Type
Collaborations; Monro School Copy

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2002


John Lascelles, July 1888; ... Tom Girtin (1913–94); his posthumous sale, Sotheby's, 14 July 1994, lot 70 as 'Travellers in a Swiss Valley' by Joseph Mallord William Turner, unsold; Sotheby's, 21 March 2002, lot 171 as 'Travellers in a Swiss Valley' by Joseph Mallord William Turner; bought by a UK private collector, £7,200

About this Work

This view of a wooded valley near Bex in the Swiss Canton of Vaud south east of Geneva 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 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 showing a valley near Bex on the route between Geneva and Martigny was copied from a composition by John Robert Cozens (1752–97) that he executed as a small monochrome study (Leeds Art Gallery (13.91/53), Bell and Girtin, 1935, no.11), part of a group of eleven signed drawings all on the same scale and uniformly mounted with their titles added below. The Cozens drawing is inscribed ‘Near Bex’, a place that he visited in the late summer of 1776 on the way to the Italian peninsular, adding, incorrectly, that it is 'in the Canton of Bern'. Six of the compositions provided the basis for Monro School copies (see also TG0485, TG0492, TG0494, TG0495, TG0503), but as each are larger to varying degrees than the 26.8 × 18.7 cm (10 ½ × 7 ⅜ in) of the Cozens drawings it is clear that they were not used by Girtin as his source material. Moreover, one of the group titled by Cozens ‘The Approach to Martigny, Rhone Valley, Valais' (Leeds Art Gallery (13.88/53)) is based on a larger on-the-spot drawing dated 1776 now in the Sir John Soane's Museum (44/12/15). Cozens' outline measures 22.9 × 36.2 cm (9 × 14 ¼ in) and given that the Monro School copies invariably follow the dimensions of their source material it is not unreasonable to conclude that the rest of this group of drawings was developed from untraced sketches made by the older artist on his first visit to the Continent. Only one of Cozens’ sketches from 1776 has survived, but others from a year later are consistently large in scale and are generally little more than summary outlines (see TG0589 figure1), 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’ trip to the Continent in 1776-79.

The watercolour appeared on the art market in 2002 with an attribution to Turner alone, and this was the opinion too of the artist’s last descendant, Tom Girtin (1913–94), who actually owned the work for a period. However, although the pencil work is neither prominent nor of outstanding quality, it does not mean that a collaboration between Girtin and Turner is out of the question. Turner’s subtle and economical use of washes of a limited palette of blues and greys certainly outshines the pencil drawing here, but a simple landscape such as this did not require much more than a bare skeleton for Turner to follow, and the subject afforded Girtin little or no opportunity to show off his skills as a draughtsman.

A Wooded Valley near Bex in Switzerland (formerly Rocca del Papa)

There is another Monro School watercolour of the same composition (see figure 1), formerly titled Rocca del Papa. The quality of the washes in this version is also poor, featuring a mechanical downstroke and an unvarying tone that fails to convey any convincing sense of distance, all of which suggests that it was copied from the work by Girtin and Turner by an unknown visitor to Monro’s home.

1794 - 1797

Lake Klöntal, the View Looking West


1794 - 1797

The Lake of Mezzola, near Chiavenna, Lake Como in the Distance


1794 - 1797

Castelmur Castle, in the Village of Bondo


1794 - 1797

A Ravine in the Viamala, between Chur and Chiavenna


1794 - 1797

Lake Como


1794 - 1797

Tivoli: ‘The Temple of the Sibyl’, Seen from Below


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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