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

An Unidentified Fort on a Cliff by the Sea

1794 - 1797

Primary Image: TG0662: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), after (?) John Robert Cozens (1752–97), An Unidentified Fort on a Cliff by the Sea, 1794–97, graphite and watercolour on paper, on an early mount, 19 × 24.4 cm, 7 ½ × 9 ⅝ in. Tate, Turner Bequest CCCLXXIII, 28 (D36441).

Photo courtesy of Tate (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) after (?) John Robert Cozens (1752-1797)
  • An Unidentified Fort on a Cliff by the Sea
1794 - 1797
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on paper, on an early mount
19 × 24.4 cm, 7 ½ × 9 ⅝ in
Mount Dimensions
36.3 × 49.5 cm, 14 ¼ × 19 ½ in
Part of
Object Type
Collaborations; Monro School Copy
Subject Terms
Unidentified Topographical View

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in November 2017


Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833); his posthumous sale, Christie's, 28 June 1833, lot 78 as ‘A book containing 62 interesting sketches in the neighbourhood of Rome and Naples, by Turner, in Indian ink and blue’; bought by Thomas Griffith on behalf of Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), £21; accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest, 1856


Finberg, 1909, vol.2, p.1228 as 'Castle on promontory by the sea' by Thomas Girtin; Turner Online as 'A Fort on a Cliff by the Sea' by Joseph Mallord William Turner and Thomas Girtin (Accessed 08/09/2022)

About this Work

This view of an unidentified coastal fort is mounted in an album of watercolours that was bought by Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851) at the posthumous sale of Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833) (Exhibitions: Christie’s, 28 June 1833, lot 78). The sixty-four drawings were the outcome of a unique collaboration between Girtin and Turner working together at Monro’s London home at the Adelphi. Here the artists 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

It has not been possible to trace the source of this view, nor has the identity of the fort been established. The work’s position in an album of ‘sketches in the neighbourhood of Rome and Naples’, which Monro assembled from the drawings he commissioned from Girtin and Turner, suggests that it might be found somewhere along the coast between Terracina and Naples, where John Robert Cozens (1752–97) travelled in 1777 and again in 1782–83. But, despite extensive searches, no satisfactory location has been found here or further south along the Neapolitan coast, and no comparable subject is to be seen in the sketches of either Cozens or his contemporaries working in Italy. There is no reason to suspect, however, that the Monro School drawing was not produced from a sketch made by Cozens that has either been lost or remains unrecognised. 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 much of the material from which Girtin and Turner worked (Sloan and Joyner, 1993, pp.81–82).2 That said, the form of the fortress is so distinctive, it is hard to believe that the mystery of its identity could have continued for so long. Could it therefore be that the structure and the setting were at least partly invented by the Monro School artists themselves, perhaps based on the form of the Castel dell’Ovo in Naples?

The fruitless search for the identity of the subject here is particularly frustrating because the composition was of some significance for Girtin himself. Whilst the task of copying outlines for Monro rarely offered rewards other than financial, Cozens’ composition was to inspire a number of the artist’s later watercolours, most notably his memorable depiction of Lindisfarne Castle (TG1113), which employs a similar scheme to outstanding dramatic effect.

The album containing this drawing was sold in 1833 as the work of Turner, but the cataloguer of the Turner Bequest, Alexander Finberg, thought that Girtin alone was responsible for the watercolours, whilst more recently Andrew Wilton has established their joint authorship (Finberg, 1909, vol.2, p.1228; Wilton, 1984a, pp.8–23). Identifying the division of labour within Monro School drawings is considerably helped, as here, when the colour washes leave some of the pencil work untouched in order to create highlights, with the result that Girtin’s inventive and fluent hand is clearly apparent alongside Turner’s economical use of a simple palette of blues and greys.

1796 - 1797

Lindisfarne Castle


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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