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

Beached Fishing Vessels in the Harbour at Dover

1795 - 1796

Primary Image: TG0820: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), after (?) John Henderson (1764–1843), Beached Fishing Vessels in the Harbour at Dover, 1795–96, graphite and watercolour on wove paper, 23 × 29.5 cm, 9 × 11 ½ in. Private Collection.

Photo courtesy of Sotheby's (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) after (?) John Henderson (1764-1843)
  • Beached Fishing Vessels in the Harbour at Dover
1795 - 1796
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on wove paper
23 × 29.5 cm, 9 × 11 ½ in
Object Type
Collaborations; Monro School Copy; Work after an Amateur Artist
Subject Terms
Coasts and Shipping; Dover and Kent

Beached Fishing Vessels, Dover Harbour (TG0819)
Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2008


Sotheby's, 19 July 1979, lot 42 as 'In Dover Harbour - Drying the Sails' by Joseph Mallord William Turner, £1,100; Sotheby’s, 22 March 2000, lot 119 as 'Boats in the Harbour at Dover' by Joseph Mallord William Turner, £12,880; private collector, UK; Sotheby’s, 5 June 2008, lot 171 as by Joseph Mallord William Turner


Merwe, 2008, p.18

About this Work

This view of beached fishing boats in the harbour at Dover, one of two versions of the composition (the other being TG0819), 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 the two artists were employed across three winters, probably between 1794 and 1797, to copy ‘the outlines or unfinished drawings of’ principally John Robert Cozens (1752–97), but other artists too, including the patron’s neighbour, the amateur John Henderson (1764–1843), who lent his ‘outlines for this purpose’ (Farington, Diary, 30 December 1794). Henderson visited Dover in the autumn of 1794 and the ‘outlines of Shipping & Boats’ he made there, described by the diarist Joseph Farington (1747–1821) as ‘Very ingenious & careful’, provided the basis for a substantial number of copies commissioned by Monro (Farington, Diary, 1 December 1795). As with the copies the artists made after the sketches of Cozens, ‘Girtin drew in outlines and Turner washed in the effects’, with Turner receiving ‘3s. 6d each night’ though ‘Girtin did not say what He had’ (Farington, Diary, 12 November 1798).1

Girtin is not known to have visited Dover and all of his views of the town were copied after secondary sources, including his master, Edward Dayes (1763–1804). However, whilst Turner travelled to the port in 1793 and executed a series of studio watercolours after his own sketches, the majority of the Dover subjects sold from Monro’s collection, numbering as many as a hundred, were still produced after the work of other artists (Exhibitions: Christie’s, 26 June 1833; Christie’s, 1 July 1833). The source for this work has not been traced, but comparisons with the sketches used by the Monro School artists in the production of other Dover views – such as Dover Harbour: Fishing Vessels, Their Sails Drying (TG0798), which displays the same fascination with the minutiae of marine labour and similarly includes fishing boats with their sails drying after returning from a night’s work – suggest that it was an outline drawing by Henderson. The attention to detail seen in the watercolour is such that the marine historian Pieter van der Merwe has been able to identify the fishing boats in the foreground as ‘Brighton hogboats or “hoggies”’, one of which has lowered its mast into a crutch for stability, whilst in the distance there are ‘Deal luggers’, which were used either for fishing or as pilot boats (information provided in a letter to the National Gallery of Ireland, 2011). It was also Der Merwe who pointed out that this watercolour adapts the composition of the Monro School work in the collection of the National Gallery of Ireland (TG0819) by cutting the view to the left and bringing the jetty close to, in the process removing much of the view of Dover (Merwe, 2008, p.18). The figures too have undergone a subtle change, being more obviously engaged in their labours rather than smoking and conversing, but the detail remains of their clothes suspended from the masts to dry out in place of the sails.

All of the views of Dover sold at Monro’s posthumous sale in 1833 were attributed to Turner alone, and this remained the case when this work last appeared on the art market in 2008. Comparing the pencil work that is left visible right across this watercolour with the outline underlying Turner’s washes in the more extensive of the two versions (TG0819), it is clear that the same hand was responsible for both, and, whilst the quality of the drawing is not of the highest standard, it is likely that Girtin was the draughtsman. In numerous Monro School subjects, Girtin actually traced the lines from his source, but in this case, as overlaying images of the two watercolours clearly establishes, Girtin took the opportunity not only to change the composition to the left but also to subtly vary the proportions of the boats and their sails so that the view works more effectively as a close-up of marine labour. Certainly, it seems to be this way around, with this view being adapted from the other, more diffuse image, rather than Girtin starting with this close-up view of fishing boats next to a jetty and adding a longer vista to it.

Dover: Boats with Fishermen

A variation of the composition with a different configuration of fishing boats is in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, where it is attributed to Turner (see figure 1). The rough texture of the paper, however, is very different from the smooth wove supports used by Turner, and the watercolour washes are too crude to be by him. An alternative attribution to Girtin is also untenable on similar grounds of quality, and there is no evidence of his characteristic pencil drawing. Might this therefore be an example of Henderson working up one of his own Dover sketches?

1795 - 1796

Beached Fishing Vessels, Dover Harbour


1795 - 1796

Dover Harbour: Fishing Vessels, Their Sails Drying


1795 - 1796

Beached Fishing Vessels, Dover Harbour


1795 - 1796

Beached Fishing Vessels, Dover Harbour


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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