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

Cynwyd Mill, North Wales

1794 - 1797

Primary Image: TG0780: (?) Thomas Girtin (1775–1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851) after John Laporte (1761-1839), Cynwyd Mill, North Wales, 1794–97, graphite and watercolour on paper, 26.4 × 38.1 cm, 10 ⅜ × 15 in. Brandler Galleries, London.

Photo courtesy of Christie's (All Rights Reserved)

Artist's source: John Laporte (1761–1839), Cynwyd Mill, North Wales, bodycolour on paper, 37.2 × 54.6 cm, 14 ⅝ × 21 ½ in. Private Collection.

Photo courtesy of Christie's

Description
Creator(s)
(?) Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) after John Laporte (1761-1839)
Title
  • Cynwyd Mill, North Wales
Date
1794 - 1797
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on paper
Dimensions
26.4 × 38.1 cm, 10 ⅜ × 15 in
Object Type
Collaborations; Monro School Copy
Subject Terms
North Wales; Wind and Water Mills

Collection
Catalogue Number
TG0780
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2006

Provenance

Christie’s, 15 November 1988, lot 15 as 'Boot Mill in Eskdale, on Whillan Beck' by Joseph Mallord William Turner, £2,640; the Fry Gallery, London, £5,500; Christie’s, 5 June 2006, lot 20, as 'Boot Mill in Eskdale on Whillan Beck' by Joseph Mallord William Turner and Thomas Girtin, £10,800; Brandler Galleries, London, 2019–

Exhibition History

Fry, 1989, no.109

Bibliography

Wilton, 1984a, p.19 as '"Monro School", A mill in the Lake District'; Powell, 2015, pp.11–13 as 'Cynwyd Mill, North Wales' by Joseph Mallord William Turner

About this Work

This view of Cynwyd Mill, near Corwen in North Wales, formerly identified as Eskdale Mill in the Lake District, was made 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. Their task, as they recalled to the diarist Joseph Farington (1747–1821), was to copy ‘the outlines or unfinished drawings of’ principally John Robert Cozens (1752–97), but other artists too, including Girtin’s master, Edward Dayes (1763–1804). The ‘finished drawings’ they were commissioned to produce were the result of a strict division of labour: ‘Girtin drew in outlines and Turner washed in the effects’. As the young artists reported, ‘They went at 6 and staid till Ten’, with Turner receiving ‘3s. 6d each night’ whilst ‘Girtin did not say what He had’ (Farington, Diary, 12 November 1798).1 The outcome of their joint labours was substantial, amounting to several hundred drawings of which nine or so are views in North Wales.

Neither Girtin nor Turner had visited North Wales by the time of the production of this work, and so the Monro School Welsh views must have been made after compositions by other artists, principally Dayes, who also provided the models for the Lake District scenes. However, although Dayes produced a view titled A Waterfall at Corwen, which shows the same mill from a different direction (Private Collection, illustrated in Exhibitions: Agnew’s, 1999), it seems that the source for the scene was provided instead by John Laporte (1761–1839) in the form of a large-scale bodycolour (see the source image above). There were just half a dozen works by Laporte in Monro’s posthumous sale in 1833, but numerous bodycolours had appeared in the half a dozen sales from the patron’s collection that had preceded it, and it is likely that it was this finished studio work that was available for copying in the mid-1790s, rather than a less substantial on-the-spot sketch. Comparing the two compositions certainly suggests that this was the model; the only significant difference in detail occurs to the left, where the composition has been compressed, with the framing tree brought to the right to close the scene. Laporte’s drawing had an added significance in this case, because it is likely that it is the work that was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1793 as ‘A mill at Corwen, Merionethshire’ (no.634) and it is therefore just the sort of highly finished studio work that would have been regarded as worthy of emulation by ambitious young artists.

Monro’s posthumous sale contained more than twenty Welsh views, all of which were attributed solely to Turner, and they were noted as being in ‘blue and Indian ink’ and therefore employed the same palette associated with the Monro School works. The attribution of these views solely to Turner has been challenged in recent years, following the publication of Andrew Wilton’s pioneering article in 1984, and Girtin’s contribution to this work was acknowledged when it appeared at auction in 2006 (Wilton, 1984a, pp.8–23). Since then, however, Cecilia Powell, whose outstanding detective work established the correct identification of the subject, has argued that the work should remain attributed to Turner (Powell, 2015, pp.11–13). The reappearance of the watercolour on the art market in 2019 provided the opportunity to look at the work closely, and, whilst it is true that the pencil work does not assert itself, I believe that Girtin’s distinctive hand is still visible across the foreground and in the buildings, where Turner has left significant areas untouched to create a range of highlights. On balance, therefore, I see no reason to suspect that the work does not follow the division of labour that the two artists described themselves to Farington in 1798.

by Greg Smith

Place depicted

Footnotes

  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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