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

Fort de l'Écluse on the River Rhône

1797 - 1798

Primary Image: TG0695: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), after (?) John Robert Cozens (1752–97), Fort de l'Écluse on the River Rhône, 1797–98, graphite and watercolour on paper (watermark: 1797 / J WHATMAN), 37.3 × 52.5 cm, 14 ⅝ × 20 ⅝ in. Tate, Turner Bequest CCCLXXV, 29 (D36550).

Photo courtesy of Tate (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) after (?) John Robert Cozens (1752-1797)
  • Fort de l'Écluse on the River Rhône
1797 - 1798
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on paper (watermark: 1797 / J WHATMAN)
37.3 × 52.5 cm, 14 ⅝ × 20 ⅝ in

‘Fort l’Ecluse between - / between Lyons & Geneva’ on the back, by Thomas Girtin

Object Type
Collaborations; Monro School Copy
Subject Terms
French View: The Alps; Hills and Mountains; River Scenery

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in December 2017


Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833); his posthumous sale, Christie's, 26–28 June and 1–2 July 1833 (day and lot number not known); bought by Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851); accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest, 1856


Finberg, 1909, vol.2, p.1236 as '"Fort Lecluse, between Lyons and Geneva"' by Thomas Girtin; Turner Online as 'At Fort de l'Ecluse in Savoy' by Joseph Mallord William Turner and Thomas Girtin (Accessed 08/09/2022)

About this Work

This view of the fort on the Rhône that formed the border between France and the Swiss confederation 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 they were employed across three winters, probably between 1794 and 1797, to make ‘finished drawings’ from the ‘Copies’ of the ‘outlines or unfinished drawings of Cozens’ and other artists, amateur and professional, either from Monro’s collection or lent for the purpose. As the two young artists later recalled, Girtin generally ‘drew in outlines and Turner washed in the effects’. ‘They went at 6 and staid till Ten’, which may account for the generally monochrome appearance of the works, and, as the diarist Joseph Farington (1747–1821) reported, Turner received ‘3s. 6d each night’, though ‘Girtin did not say what He had’ (Farington, Diary, 12 November 1798).1

The title of the work comes from an inscription on the back, which appears to be in Girtin’s handwriting and which he presumably copied from the drawing on which the work is based. Although it has not been traced, it is very likely to have been a sketch by John Robert Cozens (1752–97), who travelled to nearby Geneva in August 1776 and whose drawings of the lake provided the basis for a number of Monro School subjects, such as A View of Geneva, from Cologny (TG0452). Cozens’ sketch was probably in the form of a simple, though large-scale, outline, which would have needed careful interpretation to create the ‘finished drawings’ that Monro required for his collection. An auction of the artist’s work held in July 1794 contained twenty-seven ‘books of sketches’ and many hundreds of drawings made on his travels, and, as Kim Sloan has argued, given that Monro’s posthumous sale included only a few sketches by Cozens, the patron must have borrowed much of the material from which Girtin and Turner worked (Sloan and Joyner, 1993, pp.81–82).2 As was commonly the case, the sketch either has not survived or has not been recognised as Cozens’ work.

The watercolour was bought by Turner at Monro’s posthumous sale in 1833, where the majority of the Monro School copies were listed as being by him alone. The cataloguer of the Turner Bequest, Alexander Finberg, thought that Girtin was responsible for watercolours such as this, however, though more recently Andrew Wilton has established their joint authorship (Finberg, 1909, vol.2, p.1236; Wilton, 1984a, pp.8–23). Identifying the division of labour within Monro School drawings is considerably helped, as here, when Girtin’s inventive and fluent hand is clearly apparent, particularly in areas that Turner left untouched to create highlights. Elsewhere, Turner applied his simple palette of blues and greys with rather more care than was usually the case, expending time on creating a skyscape and carefully capturing the reflections on the river’s surface.

The paper has a watermark with a 1797 date, indicating that this must have been one of the last works executed at Monro’s house, and in consequence it is tempting to relate the work’s enhanced degree of finish to the artists’ greater maturity. However, there is no one feature in either the outline drawing or the colouring that might not be dated with equal validity to the outset of the artists’ work at Monro’s house. It is ironic therefore that one of only two Monro School watercolours that we can date with reasonable precision (the other being TG0652) shows up the error of trying to narrow the date down to anything more specific than the three- or four-year spread I have consistently applied to the remainder of the drawings: the Monro School works essentially remain in a vacuum, distinct from either artists’ stylistic development.

1794 - 1797

A View of Geneva, from Cologny


(?) 1797

Naples: Santa Maria del Parto, Mergellina


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).
  2. 2 A full record of the sale is available in the Documents section of the Archive (1794 – Item 1)

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