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

Dover: The Harbour with Vessels

1795 - 1796

Primary Image: TG0824: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), after (?) John Henderson (1764–1843), Dover: The Harbour with Vessels, 1795–96, graphite and watercolour on wove paper, 22.4 × 21.4 cm, 8 ⅞ × 8 ⅜ in. The Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge (PD.18-1953).

Photo courtesy of The Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) after (?) John Henderson (1764-1843)
  • Dover: The Harbour with Vessels
1795 - 1796
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on wove paper
22.4 × 21.4 cm, 8 ⅞ × 8 ⅜ 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 December 2023


Herbert Horne (1864–1916); bought from him by Sir Edward Marsh (1872–1953), May 1904; bequeathed through the National Art-Collections Fund (The Art Fund), 1953

Exhibition History

London, 1916, no.111 as ’Cliffs and harbour’ by Joseph Mallord William Turner; Cambridge, 1975a, no.2, as ’Dover, harbour and shipping’ by Joseph Mallord William Turner, ’c.1792–93’


Hartley, 1984, p.62; Hodge and Mac Nally, 2012, p.42; Fitzwilliam Museum Online as by Joseph Mallord William Turner (Accessed 12/09/2022)

About this Work

This view of fishing boats in the harbour at Dover 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 specific source for this work has not been traced, but comparisons with the sketches used by the Monro School artists in the production of other port views – such as Dover Harbour: Fishing Vessels, Their Sails Drying (TG0798), which displays a similar fascination with the minutiae of marine labour – suggest that it was an outline drawing by Henderson. The amateur’s numerous Dover views are essentially variations on a set of themes, with the same vessels, buildings, views and naval operations returning in different combinations, and it is a measure of their skill that both Turner and Girtin were able to create from this unpromising source a unified body of work that includes sufficient variety to maintain interest levels. This composition reworks the same elements seen in Dover Harbour, with the Cliffs Beyond (TG0816), with the vessels in the foreground placed in front of a picturesque range of buildings with the chalk cliffs beyond them, all focused by an unusually square format. As in Beached Fishing Vessels, Dover Harbour (TG0819), the fishing vessel has evidently just returned from a trip as the mast has been lowered into a crutch, providing a convenient frame on which the fishermen’s clothing can dry in the sun. To the left a figure hoists a jacket up the smaller of the masts at the prow.

All of the views of Dover sold at Monro’s posthumous sale in 1833 were attributed to Turner alone, and, prior to the publication of Andrew Wilton’s pioneering article in 1984, few of the Monro School subjects were described as being the joint productions of Girtin and Turner, this despite the artists’ own description of their practice at the patron’s house as related to Farington in 1798 (Wilton, 1984a, pp.8–23). Indeed, this watercolour still retains its attribution to Turner, originally proposed by Malcolm Cormack, whose dating of it to 1792–93 implies that it resulted from his first visit to Dover (Exhibitions: Cambridge, 1975a, no.2). However, the watercolour bears no relation to any of the sketches that Turner made in 1793, and it is so close to the works made after Henderson’s outlines that there can be little doubt that it was produced at a later date. Moreover, enough of Girtin’s characteristic and attractive pencil work is visible in areas such as the buildings in the middle ground, the cliffs behind and the rigging of the ships to be reasonably sure of his involvement in the work’s production. Indeed, if anything, it is Turner’s contribution that might be questioned since the work does not employ either the characteristic range of blues and greys or the simpler monochrome palette that is typically found in the Monro School Dover subjects he worked on. The colour range is actually closer to that employed by Girtin in Boats Anchored in Dover Harbour (TG0821), a work in which Turner certainly did not have a hand. On balance, though, the modelling of the vessels and the depiction of the water have a deal in common with Turner, and a joint attribution is perhaps the soundest option after all.

Boats in Dover Harbour

Another version of the composition is in the collection of The Whitworth, Manchester (see figure 1). The quality of the work is poor, and it is clearly not by Girtin and Turner, but it is of some significance as the more conventionally proportioned landscape format includes another vessel in the foreground to the right. This was presumably worked up from Henderson’s outline, perhaps by the amateur himself, and it follows from this that when Girtin came to copy the same lost source, he chose to cut the vessel to the right and simplify the buidlings in the distance, all of which overcrowds the scene, and it was presumably this that resulted in an unconventional square format.

1795 - 1796

Dover Harbour: Fishing Vessels, Their Sails Drying


1795 - 1796

Dover Harbour, with the Cliffs Beyond


1795 - 1796

Beached Fishing Vessels, Dover Harbour


1795 - 1796

Boats Anchored 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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