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Works Thomas Girtin and Joseph Mallord William Turner after (?) Edward Dayes

Grasmere: Looking North West to Helm Crag

1794 - 1797

Primary Image: TG0786: Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851), after (?) Edward Dayes (1763-1804), Grasmere: Looking North West to Helm Crag, 1794–97, graphite and watercolour on paper, 14 × 21.3 cm, 5 ½ × 8 ⅜ in. Private Collection.

Photo courtesy of Christie's

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) after (?) Edward Dayes (1763-1804)
  • Grasmere: Looking North West to Helm Crag
1794 - 1797
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on paper
14 × 21.3 cm, 5 ½ × 8 ⅜ in
Object Type
Collaborations; Monro School Copy
Subject Terms
Hills and Mountains; Lake Scenery; The Lake District

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Sale Catalogue


Christie's, 14 November 1989, lot 84 as 'Grasmere' by Edward Dayes, £1,980; Spink & Son Ltd, London

Exhibition History

Spink’s, London, 1990, no.5 as by Joseph Mallord William Turner and Thomas Girtin

About this Work

This view of the lake and village of Grasmere in the Lake District, with Helm Crag beyond, was made at the home of Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833), where Girtin and his contemporary Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851) were employed across three winters, probably between 1794 and 1797. Their task, as they recalled to the diarist Joseph Farington (1747–1821), was to copy ‘the outlines or unfinished drawings of’ principally John Robert Cozens (1752–97), but other artists too, including Girtin’s master, Edward Dayes (1763–1804). The ‘finished drawings’ they were commissioned to produce were the result of a strict division of labour: ‘Girtin drew in outlines and Turner washed in the effects’. As the young artists reported, ‘They went at 6 and staid till Ten’, with Turner receiving ‘3s. 6d each night’ whilst ‘Girtin did not say what He had’ (Farington, Diary, 12 November 1798).1 The outcome of their joint labours was substantial, amounting to several hundred drawings of which at least twenty are Lake District scenes after compositions by Dayes.

Girtin made a number of copies of his master’s views of the Lake District during his apprenticeship, including Lake Windermere and Belle Isle (TG0078). Since he was never actually to travel to one of the country’s most popular picturesque regions, for artists as well as their patrons and customers, he continued to base his Lake District views on the works of others throughout his career. As with the numerous copies that Girtin and Turner created from compositions by Cozens, it was the slight sketches and outlines that Dayes made on his travels that were used as the source for their more finished watercolours. Monro’s posthumous sale, in 1833, contained several hundred of Dayes’ sketches, including seven ‘Views on the lakes, blue and Indian ink’ as well as views of ‘Keswick, Glanton, Patterdale’, all presumably made on his only documented visit to the Lakes in 1789, but there is no evidence that Monro owned any of the older artist’s studio works (Exhibitions: Christie’s, 2 July 1833, lots 42 and 45). Typically, the precise Dayes source for this popular view of Grasmere has not been traced, though two of his studio watercolours show a similar view from further away (Dove Cottage and Wordsworth Museum, Grasmere (1988.170); another view on loan to the same museum from the National Trust (2006.L1.8)). This does not mean we should look elsewhere for its model, however, as few of Dayes’ sketches have survived and, arguably, the fact that no source can be found suggests that it was a thoroughly unprepossessing drawing that required considerable transformational skills from the young artists.

Monro’s posthumous sale contained more than forty Lake District views, all of which were attributed solely to Turner (Exhibitions: Christie’s, 26 June 1833; Christie’s, 1 July 1833). Unlike Girtin, Turner did visit the region, albeit briefly in 1797. However, whilst some of the items in the sale may have resulted from this trip, the majority were noted as being in ‘blue and Indian ink’ and therefore employed the same distinctive palette as the Monro School works. In fact, this watercolour was sold at auction in 1989 as the work of Dayes himself, though it reappeared soon after under a joint attribution to Turner and Girtin. Given that Girtin was Dayes’ apprentice and that the monochrome copies that he and Turner produced after Dayes’ compositions at Monro’s house were worked in the master’s style as well, it is surprising that there are not other instances of their works being confused. The watercolour is known only from a poor-quality black and white photograph, however, and it is not possible to comment with any great confidence on either the validity of the reattribution or the extent of Girtin’s contribution in the form of underlying pencil work, other than to say that there is no reason to suspect that the drawing is not the product of the same division of labour that the two artists themselves described to Farington in 1798.

1791 - 1792

Lake Windermere and Belle Isle


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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