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

An Unidentified Castle by a River, Known as 'Orte'

1794 - 1797

Primary Image: TG0634: (?) Thomas Girtin (1775–1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), after (?) John Robert Cozens (1752–97), An Unidentified Castle by a River, Known as 'Orte', 1794–97, graphite and watercolour on wove paper, 23.5 × 34.3 cm, 9 ¼ × 13 ½ in. Brighton Museum and Art Gallery (FA100039).

Photo courtesy of Royal Pavilion & Museums Trust, Brighton & Hove (All Rights Reserved)

(?) Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) after (?) John Robert Cozens (1752-1797)
  • An Unidentified Castle by a River, Known as 'Orte'
1794 - 1797
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on wove paper
23.5 × 34.3 cm, 9 ¼ × 13 ½ in
Object Type
Collaborations; Monro School Copy
Subject Terms
Italian View: The Roman Campagna; River Scenery

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in February 2020


Thos. Agnew & Sons (stock no.852); Alfred George Edward Godden (1850–1933) (lent to Hove, 1928); bequeathed to the Gallery, 1933

Exhibition History

Agnew’s, 1908, no.171 as ’Orti’ by Joseph Mallord William Turner; Hove Museum, Loan Exhibition, 1928

About this Work

This unknown castle by a river, which has hitherto been identified as Orte in central Italy, 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 image of the castellated tower bears no resemblance to any building in Orte or nearby on the river Tiber, however, and it is not known how or why the work acquired its title, especially as it does not seem to have been inscribed in any way. Thomas Girtin (1874–1960), a great-grandson of the artist, instead suggested that the view might represent a scene on Lake Orta in northern Italy, which is close to Lake Maggiore, where John Robert Cozens (1752–97) made a number of sketches that provided subjects for Turner and Girtin working for Monro (such as TG0755 and TG0756). Again, nothing approximating this view has been found, and not surprisingly it has also not been possible to identify the source of the work, though, as with so many of the Monro School subjects, it is most likely to have been a sketch by Cozens that has subsequently been lost.

Girtin’s great-grandson attributed the watercolour to Turner alone, and this is not surprising given that it has been quite heavily worked, with a full palette of colours that all but efface any traces of pencil work. The question then is, if nothing of Girtin’s work remains visible, does it follow that the drawing 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 involved in the work’s creation, albeit at the most basic level, tracing the outlines from a lost Cozens drawing; it was Turner’s more onerous task to obscure the essentially mechanical task of replication and produce something that approximates to a finished work. The result is comparable to a view such as A Villa on the Banks of the River Arno (TG0749), which has likewise been attributed solely to Turner.

1794 - 1797

Angera: The Borromeo Castle Overlooking Lake Maggiore


1794 - 1797

The Castle of Arona on Lake Maggiore


1794 - 1797

A Villa on the Banks of the River Arno, Known as ‘The Villa Salviati’


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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