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

Ancient Ruins on the Coast near the Point of Posillipo

1794 - 1797

Primary Image: TG0730: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), after John Robert Cozens (1752–97), Ancient Ruins on the Coast near the Point of Posillipo, 1794–97, graphite and watercolour on wove paper, 19.7 × 24.1 cm, 7 ¾ × 9 ½ in. Tate, Turner Bequest CCCLXXVI, 1 (D36560).

Photo courtesy of Tate (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) after John Robert Cozens (1752-1797)
  • Ancient Ruins on the Coast near the Point of Posillipo
1794 - 1797
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on wove paper
19.7 × 24.1 cm, 7 ¾ × 9 ½ in
Object Type
Collaborations; Monro School Copy
Subject Terms
Coasts and Shipping; Italian View: Naples and Environs

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 'Building on promontory beside river' by Thomas Girtin; Bell and Girtin, 1935, p.62; Turner Online as by Joseph Mallord William Turner and Thomas Girtin

(Accessed 09/09/2022)

About this Work

This view of a series of ruins along the coast near the Point of Posillipo, near Naples, was copied from a composition by John Robert Cozens (1752–97) (see figure 1). It was produced at the home of Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833), where Girtin and his contemporary Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851) 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’. The majority of the resulting watercolours saw the two artists engaged in a unique collaboration; as they later recalled, Girtin ‘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

On the Coast of Posillipo, near the Point

Cozens’ on-the-spot sketch contains a long inscription detailing the view: ‘On the Coast of Pausilippo near the Point – Octr 18 – From Marechiaro which signifies Still-sea’, ‘The arches, some antique remains’ and ‘Remains of a Temple’. The ruins, which feature in a similar view by Thomas Jones (1742–1803) dating from 1780 (Sir John Soane’s Museum, London), are part of the so-called School of Virgil, one of a number of sites associated with the Roman poet in the area. Cozens’ sketch is found at the beginning of the fourth of the seven sketchbooks from Cozens’ second Italian trip in 1782, which saw the artist travel to Naples in the company of his patron William Beckford (1760–1844). The sketch was presumably made from the water on the return from the trip to the islet of Nisida, which features in another Monro School watercolour (TG0729).

The Monro School watercolour was in all probability not copied directly from this sketch, however. An album put together by Sir George Beaumont (1753–1827), now in the collection of the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, contains ‘215 “tracings” or drawings on oiled paper’, and this was lent to Monro for his copyists to work from (Sloan and Joyner, 1993, pp.89–91). The album contains more than seventy tracings from on-the-spot drawings in the first three of the sketchbooks, and these provided the basis for more than thirty Monro School works. There are only five tracings from the next three books, but there is no reason to think that many others did not exist, and it was presumably from these lost copies by Cozens himself that as many as thirty-five more watercolours were produced by Girtin and Turner, including this coastal view. The notion that the Monro School artists worked from simple outline tracings, rather than the on-the-spot sketches, is supported by two considerations. Firstly, it is highly unlikely that Beckford would have lent out the sketchbooks and, given that Cozens took the trouble to make copies of so many of the drawings, it is clear that the patron, and not the artist, retained the books. Secondly, and perhaps more significantly, Monro School copies such as this example never follow the shading or the distribution of light seen in the on-the-spot sketches, though they always replicate the basic outlines found in the tracings.

This is one of several hundred works bought by Turner at the posthumous sale of Monro’s collection in 1833, the bulk of which were attributed to him alone. The cataloguer of the Turner Bequest, Alexander Finberg, in contrast thought that Girtin was responsible for watercolours such as this example, whilst more recently Andrew Wilton has established their joint authorship (Finberg, 1909, vol.2, p.1237; Wilton, 1984a, pp.8–23). Identifying the division of labour within Monro School drawings is considerably helped, as here, when the colour washes by Turner leave some of the pencil work untouched in order to create highlights. In practice, Girtin did little more than trace the general outlines of the composition and it was left to Turner to obscure the essentially mechanical task of replication.

1794 - 1797

The Bay of Porto Paone, a Flooded Crater in the Islet of Nisida


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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