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

An Unidentified View in the French Alps

1794 - 1797

Primary Image: TG0693: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), after (?) John Robert Cozens (1752–97), An Unidentified View in the French Alps, 1794–97, graphite and watercolour on wove paper, 17.4 × 24.7 cm, 6 ⅞ × 9 ¾ in. Tate, Turner Bequest CCCLXXVI, 4 (D36563).

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 View in the French Alps
1794 - 1797
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on wove paper
17.4 × 24.7 cm, 6 ⅞ × 9 ¾ in

‘at Tigue in the East of France’ on the back, by Thomas Girtin

Object Type
Collaborations; Monro School Copy
Subject Terms
French View: The Alps; Hills and Mountains; Lake Scenery

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in January 2018


Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833); his posthumous sale, Christie's, 26–28 June and 1–2 July 1833 (day and lot number not known); bought by Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851); accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest, 1856


Finberg, 1909, vol.2, p.1237 as 'At Tique (?), in the East of France' by Thomas Girtin; Wilton, 1984a, p.19 as '"Monro School", At Tigue, in the East of France'; Turner Online as 'A Building by a Lake Among Mountains at Tigues, on the Route to Mont Cenis' by Joseph Mallord William Turner and Thomas Girtin (Accessed 08/09/2022)

About this Work

This unidentified view of an Alpine lake, ‘in the East of France’, was bought at the posthumous sale of Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833) by Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851). The watercolour displays many of the signs that mark the unique collaboration between Girtin and his contemporary Turner at the home of their mutual patron 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’, 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 need to work by candlelight may account for the generally monochrome appearance of the Monro School works, though, as here, the smaller examples tend to be more colourful and highly finished.

It has not been possible to identify the location of the building overlooking the lake shown here, because, although the drawing is inscribed on the back ‘at Tigue in the East of France’, probably by Girtin himself, no place of that name exists in the area. It is possible that either the artist who produced the source material or Girtin himself made a mistake and that the location depicted is Tignes, but the village is a good way from any of the routes commonly frequented by British artists at this time, and the subject’s similarity to another depiction of an Alpine lake, Lake Mont Cenis (TG0694), suggests that this too is a view of that lake. Even without a clear identity for the location, it would be a surprise if the source did not turn out to be a composition by John Robert Cozens (1752–97), and more specifically one of the sketches that he made on his return trip from Italy in 1779. Cozens actually crossed the Alps at Mont Cenis again in 1783, but none of the sketches he made in the last of the seven sketchbooks associated with that trip accord with a Monro School view, and a lost drawing from the earlier journey still seems the likeliest source. 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 contained 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

Monro’s posthumous sale contained numerous Italian scenes attributed to Turner, many of which were acquired, as here, by the artist himself. The cataloguer of the Turner Bequest, Alexander Finberg, thought that Girtin alone was responsible for works such as this, whilst more recently Andrew Wilton has established the joint authorship of the majority of the Monro School works bought by Turner (Finberg, 1909, vol.2, p.1237; Wilton, 1984a, pp.8–23). This example has been heavily worked by Turner using a full palette of colours, so that Girtin’s underlying drawing is barely visible, particularly in comparison with the slighter monochrome watercolours that are more commonly found in the Turner Bequest. The pencil work, in any case, is likely to have constituted little more than a simple tracing of the Cozens outline, though arguably just enough is visible in the building to the left to be sure of Girtin’s involvement in its production.

1794 - 1797

Lake Mont Cenis


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

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