For full functionality of this site it is necessary to enable JavaScript. Here are the instructions how to enable JavaScript in your web browser.
Works Thomas Girtin and Joseph Mallord William Turner after (?) John Robert Cozens

Lake Avernus

1794 - 1797

Primary Image: TG0665: Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851), after (?) John Robert Cozens (1752-1797), Lake Avernus, 1794–97, graphite and watercolour on paper, 24 × 37.5 cm, 9 ½ × 14 ¾ in. Private Collection.

Photo courtesy of Sotheby's

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) after (?) John Robert Cozens (1752-1797)
  • Lake Avernus
1794 - 1797
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on paper
24 × 37.5 cm, 9 ½ × 14 ¾ in
Object Type
Collaborations; Monro School Copy
Subject Terms
Italian View: Naples and Environs; Lake Scenery

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Auction Catalogue


Joseph Hogarth (1801–79); his sale, Southgate, 20 June 1854, lot 4162 as 'Lake of Nemi'; bought by 'Morley', £3 12s; Elhanan Bicknell (1788-1861); his posthumous sale, Christie's, 29 April 1863, lot 40 as 'The Lake of Nemi' by Joseph Mallord William Turner; bought by Sidney Bicknell, 30 gns; then by descent to a Lady; her sale, Sotheby's, 9 March 1989, lot 52 as 'Lake Avernus' by Joseph Mallord William Turner, unsold; Sotheby's, 11 July 1990, lot 35 as by Joseph Mallord William Turner, £3,850


Bicknell and Guiterman, 1987, p.44

About this Work

This view of Lake Avernus, west of Naples, 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

As with many of the Monro School drawings of Italian scenes, it has not been possible to trace the source for this view of the lake of Avernus, with its myriad potent classical associations, not least as the site of the entrance to the Underworld, or Hades. Surprisingly, given the popularity of the subject, John Robert Cozens (1752–97) is not known to have sketched the lake, but he certainly visited nearby Pozzuoli, and he remains the likeliest candidate as the author of the lost work on which this view was based. The source presumably took the form of a sketch made on one of his visits to Naples, either in 1777 or in 1782–83, and it would have been surprising had the auction of Cozens’ work held in July 1794 not contained an Avernus subject amongst the twenty-seven ‘books of sketches’ and many hundreds of unitemised drawings made on his travels.2 As Kim Sloan has argued, Monro’s posthumous sale included only a few sketches by Cozens, and the patron must have borrowed the bulk of the material from which Girtin and Turner worked from buyers at the 1794 sale, though in this case, as in many others, the drawing has either been lost or remains unrecognised (Sloan and Joyner, 1993, pp.81–82).

Lake Avernus, Monte Nuovo, the Island of Capri and Part of Baiae

If Cozens was not the source for this view, there are plenty of other candidates amongst the numerous British artists who sketched at Avernus during their stay on the Neapolitan coast, one of the earliest and certainly the most significant being Richard Wilson (1713/14–82). His views of the site invariably include the same motifs shown here, even if he did not study from exactly the same lakeside viewpoint (see figure 1). To the left is the partly ruined Temple of Apollo, with Monte Nuovo behind, whilst in the distance, looking south to Cuma (ancient Cumae), is Cape Miseno with the Baia Castle. In comparison with Wilson’s poetic conception, the Monro School view makes light of the more allusive classical associations of the site; the grotto of the Cumaean Sibyl, Aeneas’ guide to Hades, is thus not visible.

The majority of the Italian scenes sold at Monro’s posthumous sale were attributed to 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). In this case, however, the attribution to Turner acting singly remained unchallenged when the work was sold at auction in 1990. Working solely from a small black and white photograph, it is not possible to say whether Girtin was also involved in its production, other than to point out that there is also no evidence to suggest that the drawing was not the result of the division of labour that the two artists themselves described to Farington in 1798.

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)

Revisions & Feedback

The website will be updated from time to time and, when changes are made, a PDF of the previous version of each page will be archived here for consultation and citation.

Please help us to improve this catalogue

If you have information, a correction or any other suggestions to improve this catalogue, please contact us.