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

Dover Harbour, with the Castle on the Hill

1795 - 1796

Primary Image: TG0811: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802) and (?) Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), after (?) John Henderson (1764–1843), Dover Harbour, with the Castle on the Hill, 1795–96, graphite and watercolour on wove paper, 19.9 × 14.5 cm, 7 ⅞ × 5 ¾ in. British Museum, London (1944,1014.184).

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 Henderson (1764-1843)
  • Dover Harbour, with the Castle on the Hill
1795 - 1796
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on wove paper
19.9 × 14.5 cm, 7 ⅞ × 5 ¾ 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 2001 and 2018


Maria Helena Turner (1863–1954); presented to the Museum, 1944


British Museum, Collection as 'Attributed to Joseph Mallord William Turner' (Accessed 12/09/2022)

About this Work

This view of the harbour at Dover, with the town beyond and the castle on the hill above, 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

Though there is little doubt that this watercolour was made from a sketch by Henderson, and that in all probability it was executed at Monro’s home, the result is unsatisfactory on a number of counts. The composition, typically one of the amateur’s stronger points, is very confused. Thus, whilst the random way that the different elements of his compositions run into each other typically feels natural, here the lack of a clear spatial organisation means that the vessel at the quayside merges with the buildings beyond, and the result lacks focus. This is not helped by the poor quality of the washes, which, lacking Turner’s customary subtlety, obscure the pencil work in areas where they might have made a positive contribution to the overall effect. And here we get to the crux of the problem since, from what can be seen of the outline drawing, particularly in the rigging, it appears to be by Girtin himself. This leaves two equally problematic explanations. On the one hand, Girtin may have been responsible for copying a drawing by Henderson in pencil, with another, less proficient artist than Turner then adding the washes of blue and grey and in the process spoiling the effect. Alternatively, it is possible to argue that Turner was responsible for colouring the work, however poor his washes appear, but that such were the deficiencies of the composition that he stood no chance of producing anything as satisfactory as similar upright marine views, such as Figures on a Fishing Vessel in Dover Harbour (TG0808). I marginally favour the latter option, and it is perhaps worth recalling the allowances that must be made for the two artists working at Monro’s home under artificial light to an unforgiving deadline and from a poor original source; perhaps the only surprise is that there are not more examples of their standards slipping to the degree seen here.

1795 - 1796

Figures on a Fishing Vessel in 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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