Cozens’ on-the-spot sketch is inscribed ‘Near the Cascines Septr 21.’, meaning that it was made on the return from the artist’s second trip to the Continent, in the autumn of 1783 (Bell and Girtin, 1935, no.385). The sketch is found in the sixth of the seven sketchbooks that are associated with a visit that began with a journey to Naples in the company of the artist’s patron William Beckford (1760–1844). It is unlikely that the Monro School watercolour was copied directly from the sketch by Cozens, however. It would have been uncharacteristic of Beckford to have lent the sketchbooks to Monro, and the existence of a large number of tracings of their contents by Cozens himself suggests that the patron, rather than the artist, retained the books. An album put together by Sir George Beaumont (1753–1827), now in the collection of the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, includes more than seventy tracings from on-the-spot drawings in the first three of the sketchbooks, and these provided the basis for at least thirty Monro School works. There are only five tracings from the next three books, but there is no reason to think that others did not exist, and it was presumably from these lost copies by Cozens that as many as thirty-five more watercolours were produced by Girtin and Turner, including at least two other views of Florence (TG0747 and TG752a) and two of the river Arno in its vicinity (TG0749 and TG0751). The fact that the Monro School copies never follow either the shading or the distribution of light seen in the on-the-spot sketches, though they always replicate the basic outlines, further suggests that Girtin and Turner worked from tracings of the sketchbook views.
This is one of several hundred works bought by Turner at Monro’s posthumous sale in 1833, all of which were attributed to him alone. The cataloguer of the Turner Bequest, Alexander Finberg, in contrast, thought that Girtin was responsible for watercolours such as this, whilst more recently Andrew Wilton has established their joint authorship (Finberg, 1909, vol.2, p.1234; Wilton, 1984a, pp.8–23). Identifying the division of labour within Monro School drawings is considerably helped, as here, when the colour washes leave large areas untouched in order to create highlights, so that Girtin’s distinctive and inventive pencil work is clearly evident. Indeed, if there is any doubt about the dual authorship of the work, then it is Turner’s involvement that might be open to question. The simple flat area of wash in the foreground and the form of the bushes to the left are close to comparable passages in Monro School works that have been persuasively attributed to Girtin alone, such The Royal Park at Astroni (TG0737). The evidence is not decisive, but the watercolour has too much in common with Girtin’s work of around 1797–98 for a reattribution not to be worthy of at least some debate. Whatever the case, the result is a far cry from the watercolour that Cozens himself produced for Beckford (see figure 2), with its fine sunset and deepening shadows. This is a salutary reminder not only that the Monro School copies were not based on Cozens’ finished watercolours but also that they generally sought simply to match the sketch-like effect of the source, for which a duller, monochrome palette was altogether more suitable.
1794 - 1797
Florence: The Convent of Monte Oliveto, from the Banks of the Arno
1794 - 1797
A Villa on the Banks of the River Arno, Known as ‘The Villa Salviati’
1794 - 1797
A View on the River Arno, with a Tower on a Hill
1794 - 1797
The Royal Park at Astroni