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

An Unidentified Building with Mountains Beyond, Known as 'The Bishop’s Palace at Brescia'

1794 - 1797

Primary Image: TG0685: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), after (?) John Robert Cozens (1752–97), An Unidentified Building with Mountains Beyond, Known as 'The Bishop's Palace at Brescia', 1794–97, graphite and watercolour on wove paper, 14.6 × 21.5 cm, 5 ¾ × 8 ½ in. Private Collection, untraced.

Photo courtesy of Christie's (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) after (?) John Robert Cozens (1752-1797)
  • An Unidentified Building with Mountains Beyond, Known as 'The Bishop’s Palace at Brescia'
1794 - 1797
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on wove paper
14.6 × 21.5 cm, 5 ¾ × 8 ½ in
Object Type
Collaborations; Monro School Copy
Subject Terms
Hills and Mountains; Italian View: The North

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2008


Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833); his posthumous sale, Christie's, 2 July 1833, lot 104, as 'The convent at Camaldoli, Florence, Brescia, &c. 6' by 'Turner'; bought by 'Rogers', £9 9s; possibly Samuel Rogers (1763–1855); then by descent to his great-nephew, Henry Rogers (c.1823–78); his posthumous sale, Christie's, 21 May 1878, lot 139 as 'The Bishop’s Palace at Brescia' by Joseph Mallord William Turner; bought by 'Clive', £18 18s; ... Christie’s, 9 February 1951, lot 50 as by Joseph Mallord William Turner; bought by 'Spink', £18 18s; ... Christie’s, 4 June 2008, lot 4 as 'The Bishop’s Palace at Brescia, Northern Italy' by Joseph Mallord William Turner and Thomas Girtin, £8,125

About this Work

This view of an extensive building, which has been identified as the Bishop’s Palace at Brescia, 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’, 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 many of the Italian views completed at Monro’s home, it has not been possible to trace the source of this image, and nor has the location been determined either. The old title, ‘The Bishop’s Palace at Brescia’, presumably came from an inscription on either the back of the watercolour or its source, but it is clearly wrong as the palace of the Bishop of Brescia is in the centre of the city, next to the cathedral. Perhaps the work shows the bishop’s summer residence, in which case the distant mountains are the Alps, though it has not been possible to confirm this. In general, Girtin and Turner worked from compositions by John Robert Cozens (1752–97) and, more specifically, from sketches and tracings that he made during or after his two Italian visits, in 1776–79 and 1782–83. The auction of the artist’s work held in July 1794 contained twenty-seven ‘books of sketches’ and many hundreds of drawings made on his travels, and, as Kim Sloan has argued, given that Monro’s posthumous sale included only a few sketches by Cozens, the patron must have borrowed the bulk of the material from which Girtin and Turner worked (Sloan and Joyner, 1993, pp.81–82).2 In this case, the Cozens sketch either has not survived or has not been recognised as his work, and nor is it entirely clear on which visit it was made. However, although Cozens made a series of views on nearby Lake Maggiore in 1783, the sequence of dated drawings in his sketchbooks from that trip do not suggest that he had time to make a diversion during his return to England, and Bergamo fits more easily into his itinerary in the autumn of 1776, when he journeyed through northern Italy on the way from Switzerland to Rome.

The majority of the Italian scenes sold at Monro’s posthumous sale in 1833 were attributed to Turner alone, and this generally remained the case until the publication of Andrew Wilton’s pioneering article in 1984, since when the joint attribution of the Monro School works to Turner and Girtin has increasingly become the norm (Wilton, 1984a, pp.8–23). In this case, although the foreground is quite heavily worked and Turner has added a subtle skyscape, enough pencil work is still apparent, particularly on the buildings, to indicate Girtin’s participation in the drawing’s production. Girtin’s contribution amounted to little more than copying or tracing a basic outline drawing, however, and it was therefore up to Turner to obscure the essentially mechanical task of replication and create something that might be thought to approximate a finished work.

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).
  2. 2 A full record of the sale is available in the Documents section of the Archive (1794 – Item 1)

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