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

Dover: Two Boatmen Standing by the Prow of a Brig

1795 - 1796

Primary Image: TG0828: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), after (?) John Henderson (1764–1843), Dover: Two Boatmen Standing by the Prow of a Brig, 1795–96, graphite and watercolour on paper, 22 × 29.5 cm, 8 ⅝ × 11 ½ in. Private Collection.

Photo courtesy of Paul Mellon Centre Photographic Archive, PA-F05200-0027 (CC BY-NC 4.0)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) after (?) John Henderson (1764-1843)
  • Dover: Two Boatmen Standing by the Prow of a Brig
1795 - 1796
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on paper
22 × 29.5 cm, 8 ⅝ × 11 ½ 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 1998


Sir Bruce Stirling Ingram (1877–1963); his posthumous sale, Sotheby’s, 9 December 1964, lot 383 as 'Men Carrying Out Repairs to the Prow of a Ship, on a beach at low tide' by Joseph Mallord William Turner; bought by T. S. Stewart, £190; sold by his widow, Sotheby’s, 16 July 1998, lot 68 as 'Two Boatmen Standing by Rowing Boats and the Hull of a Brig' by Joseph Mallord William Turner, £12,650

About this Work

This view of the prow of a beached brig, probably in Dover harbour, 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: The Stern of a Large Ship, and Smaller Vessels (TG1473), 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. The trestles close to the prow of the vessel suggest that the boatmen are about to undertake some repair work on the hull, much as is shown in what could be a companion work, Two Boatmen Caulking the Bows of a Beached Brig (TG0849); indeed, this watercolour may show the same brig from the port side. Confirmation that both vessels were originally sketched by Henderson at Dover comes from the discovery of another version of the composition that includes an extensive view of the port in the background (see figure 1).

A Coast Scene, with a Boat in the Foreground, near Dover

All of the views of Dover sold at Monro’s posthumous sale in 1833 were attributed to Turner alone, but, despite the fact that the joint authorship of the Monro School subjects has become increasingly the norm following the publication of Andrew Wilton’s pioneering article in 1984, this work was listed as solely by Turner when it last appeared at auction in 1998 (Wilton, 1984a, pp.8–23). However, the division of labour is all the easier to establish when, as here, Turner’s sparing use of monochrome washes leave extensive areas of the paper clear to act as highlights, so that Girtin’s distinctive pencil work is visible, for instance, in the rigging and on the figures. The latter bear a strong resemblance to other Monro School scenes, such as A Smack in Dover Harbour, Drying Sails (TG0825) and Beached Fishing Vessels in the Harbour at Dover (TG0820), where the activities of the fishermen and boatmen clearly held Henderson’s attention as much as the shipping.

The attribution of the second version of the composition is less straightforward, however. The work was acquired by the Courtauld Institute Gallery, London, with an attribution to Turner, but Wilton has suggested that it is ‘a copy after Girtin’ (Selborne, 2008, p.60). No watercolour of the composition by Girtin is known to exist, however, and I suspect that it is actually an anonymous copy of the untraced Henderson original sketch, which includes the distant view of Dover omitted in the work discussed above. The view of the town in this slightly less extensive view is particularly poorly executed, though where the artist was able to copy the lines of the foreground vessel, the effect is more credible, albeit compromised spatially by the quality of the monochrome washes which give no sense of the shape of the hull.

1795 - 1796

Dover Harbour: The Stern of a Large Ship, and Smaller Vessels


1795 - 1796

Two Boatmen Caulking the Bows of a Beached Brig, Probably at Dover


1795 - 1796

A Smack in Dover Harbour, Drying Sails, with the Old Church in the Distance


1795 - 1796

Beached Fishing Vessels in the Harbour at Dover


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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