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

A Wooden Bridge over a River, Said to Be in the Pass of St Gotthard

1794 - 1797

Primary Image: TG0512: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802) and (?) Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), after (?) John Robert Cozens (1752–97), A Wooden Bridge over a River, Said to Be in the Pass of St Gotthard, 1794–97, graphite and watercolour on wove paper (watermark: J WHATMAN), on an early mount, 24.2 × 18.5 cm, 9 ½ × 7 ¼ in. Tate, Turner Bequest CCCLXXV, 32 (D36553).

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 Wooden Bridge over a River, Said to Be in the Pass of St Gotthard
1794 - 1797
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on wove paper (watermark: J WHATMAN), on an early mount
24.2 × 18.5 cm, 9 ½ × 7 ¼ in
Mount Dimensions
28.3 × 22.2 cm, 11 ⅛ × 8 ¾ in

‘Road near Mt. St Gothard in the / Canton of Uri’ on the back, by Thomas Girtin

Part of
Object Type
Collaborations; Monro School Copy
Subject Terms
Swiss View

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in December 2017


Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833); his posthumous sale, Christie's, 28 June 1833, lot 79 as 'Twenty-six sketches in Switzerland and Italy, by Turner, in blue and Indian ink, in a scrap-book'; bought by Thomas Griffith for Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), £10 10s; accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest, 1856

Exhibition History

Third Loan Collection, 1869-1931, no.75 as ’Mountain Torrent’, no catalogue


Finberg, 1909, vol.2, p.1236 as '"Road near Mt. St. Goathard, in the Canton of Uri"' by Thomas Girtin; Warrell, 1991, p.47; Turner Online as 'In the Pass of St Gotthard, Switzerland' by Joseph Mallord William Turner and Thomas Girtin (Accessed 07/09/2022)

About this Work

This view of an Alpine bridge 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 online catalogue of Turner’s works in the Turner Bequest at Tate Britain suggests that this drawing was ‘probably copied from a sketch’ by John Robert Cozens (1752–97) made on his journey through Switzerland in 1776. However, despite extensive searches, not only has no source been found amongst his works but also it has not been possible to confirm that the artist travelled through the Pass of St Gotthard on either of his trips to Italy. The inscriptions on the back of the Monro School drawings are, as here, in Girtin’s own handwriting and they are normally a reliable indicator of the subject. Given that the work does not include enough specific topographical information to corroborate the identity of the location, we are therefore left with two alternatives: either to accept that Girtin’s inscription is correct and that the work was thus copied from another, unknown artist, or to question the accuracy of the inscription and look for a Cozens source in a view of a different part of the Alps. It is the latter that I currently favour, though with no great hope of making further progress.

The watercolour is one of a group of Swiss subjects that were acquired by Turner at the posthumous sale of Monro in 1833 and that are now in the Turner Bequest at Tate Britain. The ruled border around the drawing and its smaller size suggest that it was then in an album of drawings and was later removed for display, unfortunately resulting in its current poor condition, as lengthy exposure to intense light has led to the discolouration of the paper. The condition certainly makes the assessment of the authorship of the drawing more problematic, though enough of the pencil work shows through to be fairly sure about Girtin’s contribution. But, as Andrew Wilton goes on to note in the online catalogue of the Turner Bequest, the poor quality of the washes means that it is ‘just possible that they are by a hand other than Turner’s’ (D36553). Given that it would have taken Girtin much less time to copy the outlines of a simple landscape composition than it would have taken Turner to add the colour, it is logical to assume that there were a number of Girtin’s uncoloured drawings in Monro’s possession after the artists’ employment ended, and these may have attracted the attention of one or more of the numerous young professional and amateurs who enjoyed the patron’s support. In this case, though, I am inclined to think that Turner was responsible for the colouring, but that his efforts were left off before he was able to take the drawing to a satisfactory conclusion.

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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