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

Dover Harbour: A Ship Being Overhauled

1795 - 1796

Primary Image: TG0796: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), after (?) John Henderson (1764–1843), Dover Harbour: A Ship Being Overhauled, 1795–96, graphite and watercolour on wove paper, 34.5 × 43 cm, 13 ⅝ × 16 ⅞ in. Tate, Turner Bequest CCCLXXVIII, 3 (D36618).

Photo courtesy of Tate (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) after (?) John Henderson (1764-1843)
  • Dover Harbour: A Ship Being Overhauled
1795 - 1796
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on wove paper
34.5 × 43 cm, 13 ⅝ × 16 ⅞ in
Object Type
Collaborations; Monro School Copy; Work after an Amateur Artist
Subject Terms
Coasts and Shipping; Dover and Kent

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in January 2018


Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833); his posthumous sale, Christie's, 26 June 1833, lot 111 as 'Shipping in Dover Harbour in Indian ink (9)' by 'Turner'; bought by Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), £5 5s; accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest, 1856

Exhibition History

First Loan Collection, 1869-1931, no.136 as ’Dover’


Finberg, 1909, vol.2, p.1241 as 'Shipping in Dover Harbour' by Thomas Girtin; Girtin and Loshak, 1954, p.205 as by Thomas Girtin; Warrell, 1991, p.42; Turner Online as by Joseph Mallord William Turner and Thomas Girtin (Accessed 12/09/2022)

About this Work

This view of a ship in Dover harbour being overhauled was bought by Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851) at the posthumous sale of Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833), one of as many as a hundred views of the town and its environs listed in the catalogue (Exhibitions: Christie’s, 26 June 1833; Christie’s, 1 July 1833). The watercolour was produced at Monro’s home, where Turner and Girtin 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 from Girtin and Turner 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 other artists, 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 were still produced after secondary sources. This watercolour was part of a lot of nine large views of Dover bought by Turner himself (Exhibitions: Christie’s, 26 June 1833, lot 111), and, given that six of them are based on surviving outlines by Henderson, there is no reason to suspect that this work too was not copied from an untraced drawing by the amateur artist. The watercolour was sold as by Turner alone, but, whilst the cataloguer of the Turner Bequest, Alexander Finberg, thought that Girtin was solely responsible for such works, more recently Andrew Wilton has established their joint authorship (Finberg, 1909, vol.2, p.1241; Wilton, 1984a, pp.8–23). The pencil work here is of a particularly high standard and contains numerous inventive touches that clearly identify it as being executed by Girtin himself. Turner’s economical application of a limited range of grey washes leaves Girtin’s lively pencil work in the figures showing through to particularly good effect, and they enliven what might otherwise be a conventional view of a harbour. The practice of beaching a boat on its side for cleaning, caulking or repairing, known as careening, provided the young professional artists with an artistic challenge beyond the capabilities of an amateur like Henderson, who might have used a mechanical aid such as a camera obscura to fix the forms of the ships and the buildings, but could not hope to capture the bustle of ship-hands at work.

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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