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

Buildings on the Coast at Posillipo, near Naples

1794 - 1797

Primary Image: TG0651: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), after (?) John Robert Cozens (1752–97), Buildings on the Coast at Posillipo, near Naples, 1794–97, graphite and watercolour on paper, 20.3 × 32.3 cm, 8 × 12 ¾ in. British Museum, London (1958,0712.392).

Photo courtesy of The Trustees of the British Museum (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) after (?) John Robert Cozens (1752-1797)
  • Buildings on the Coast at Posillipo, near Naples
1794 - 1797
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on paper
20.3 × 32.3 cm, 8 × 12 ¾ in

'Pausilipo naples' on the back, by Thomas Girtin

Object Type
Collaborations; Monro School Copy
Subject Terms
Italian View: Naples and Environs

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001 and 2018


John Rushout, 2nd Baron Northwick (1769–1859); then by descent to John, Lord Northwick; his sale, Sotheby's, 4 November 1920, lot 476 as 'Posilipo' by Joseph Mallord William Turner; unsold; his posthumous sale, Sotheby’s, 6 July 1921, lot 177 as 'Posilipo' by Joseph Mallord William Turner; bought by Thos. Agnew & Sons (stock no.45), £3 10s plus five per cent commission, for Robert Wylie Lloyd (1868–1958) (lent to London, 1922); bequeathed to the Museum, 1958

Exhibition History

London, 1922, no.77 as by ’J. M. W. Turner after J. R. Cozens’; London, 1998b, no.2b as ’Posillipo’ by Joseph Mallord William Turner


Bell and Girtin, 1935, p.61; British Museum, Collection as by Joseph Mallord William Turner after John Robert Cozens (Accessed 08/09/2022)

About this Work

This view of unidentified buildings on the coast at Posillipo, near Naples, 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 Coast of Posillipo

Despite the fact that the drawing is inscribed ‘Pausilipo naples’ on the back, it has not been possible to identify the precise scene shown here, which is surprising given that the Neapolitan coast north of the city, including Posillipo, was extremely popular with artist visitors to Italy, and one would expect such a distinctive group of buildings as this to have been the subject of other sketches and paintings. There are enough examples of the Monro School artists inventing architectural details for that to be worth considering as a possibility here, but on balance I suspect that, as in so many other cases, the work’s source lies in an untraced sketch by John Robert Cozens (1752–97) similar to his cliff-top scene at Posillipo (see figure 1). However, whether it was taken on Cozens’ second visit to Naples (in 1782) or on the hasty and less well-documented trip from Rome (in 1777) is difficult to say. The drawing’s relatively large size might suggest the latter, however, as Cozens tended to sketch on a more generous scale on the earlier trip.

The majority of the Italian scenes sold at Monro’s posthumous sale were attributed to Turner alone, and this generally remained the case until the publication of Andrew Wilton’s pioneering article in 1984, since when the joint attribution of the Monro School works to Turner and Girtin has increasingly become the norm (Wilton, 1984a, pp.8–23). In this case, however, Kim Sloan has retained the attribution to Turner and has also proposed a very early date of 1792 – that is, prior to when Monro moved into his new home at the Adelphi in March 1794 (Sloan, 1998, p.38). Sloan is quite right to point out that the drawing lacks the sort of inventive calligraphic flourishes that mark Girtin’s drawing at its characteristic best, but in turn she produces no evidence that the pencil work is positively by Turner and, crucially, does not consider the inscription on the back of the sheet. Although it is not possible to be absolutely sure about this, it appears to be in the same hand that noted the location of countless others of the Monro School subjects, which appears to have been the author of the underdrawing, namely Girtin. It is certainly true that up to two layers of coloured wash often obscure the pencil work here. However, to my mind there is nothing that marks the work out as being different from the numerous Italian landscapes in the Turner Bequest where the outlines play a less significant role compared to the more architectural subjects, and where a joint attribution is generally accepted. Moreover, there is certainly nothing to support an earlier date, which would put the work significantly outside the broad window of 1794–97 proposed in this online catalogue for the Monro School drawings as a whole.

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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