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

Fishing Boats at Low Tide, near Dover

1795 - 1796

Primary Image: TG0827: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), after (?) John Henderson (1764–1843), Fishing Boats at Low Tide, near Dover, 1795–96, graphite and watercolour on wove paper, 20.7 × 29.6 cm, 8 ⅛ × 11 ⅝ in. Courtauld Gallery, London, Samuel Courtauld Trust (D.1952.RW.3057).

Photo courtesy of The Courtauld, London, Samuel Courtauld Trust (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) after (?) John Henderson (1764-1843)
  • Fishing Boats at Low Tide, near Dover
1795 - 1796
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on wove paper
20.7 × 29.6 cm, 8 ⅛ × 11 ⅝ 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 2008 and March 2023


Walker’s Galleries, London; bought from them by Sir Robert Clermont Witt (1872–1952); bequeathed to the Gallery, 1952

Exhibition History

Arts Council, 1948d, no.79; Ottawa, 1949, no.55; London, 1965b, no.43; London, 2008, no.8 as ’Shipping off the Coast, near Dover’ by Joseph Mallord William Turner

About this Work

This view of fishing boats at low tide, near 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 source for this work has not been traced, but comparisons with the sketches used by the Monro School artists in the production of other Dover views – such as A Boat on the Shore, near Shakespeare Cliff (TG0797), which displays a similar fascination with the minutiae of marine labour – suggest that it was an outline drawing by Henderson. Indeed, such is the detail recorded by Henderson, which was carefully transcribed by the Monro School artists, that Pieter van der Merwe of the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, has been able to identify the various vessels shown here with some precision. The vessel to the left, for instance, is a ‘yawl, probably with a gaff main and a small Bermudan mizzen … possibly a sailing trawler from the large iron crutch which may be to support a trawl beam’. The boat on the far right, meanwhile, is a lugger and the ‘one in the centre is rigged as a cutter’, and both of them are ‘beached and drying sails’, whilst the yawl is ‘drying nets’. In the background, a brig under full sail is heading out to sea (quoted in Selborne, 2008, pp.59–60).

All of the views of Dover sold at Monro’s posthumous sale in 1833 were listed as being the work of Turner alone, and this generally remained the case until the publication of Andrew Wilton’s pioneering article in 1984, since when the joint attribution of the Monro School works to Turner and Girtin has increasingly become the norm (Wilton, 1984a, pp.8–23). The division of labour is all the easier to establish when, as here, Turner’s sparing use of a monochrome wash leaves extensive areas of the paper clear to act as highlights, so that Girtin’s distinctive pencil work is visible in many areas, particularly in the sails and the rigging, as well as the working figures on the nearest vessel. The joint attribution of the work to Turner and Girtin was confirmed by Wilton when the work last appeared in public at an exhibition of Turner watercolours from the collection of the Courtauld Institute Gallery, London, in 2008.

1795 - 1796

A Boat on the Shore, near Shakespeare Cliff, 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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