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

Lake Bolsena

1794 - 1797

Primary Image: TG0637: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851) after John Robert Cozens (1752–97), Lake Bolsena, 1794–97, graphite and watercolour on wove paper, on an early mount, 18.1 × 26.9 cm, 7 ⅛ × 10 ⅝ in. Tate, Turner Bequest CCCLXXIII, 55 (D36468).

Photo courtesy of Tate (All Rights Reserved)

Artist's source: John Robert Cozens (1752–97), A View on the Lake of Bolsena, graphite and varnish on laid paper, 16.8 × 26.4 cm, 6 ⅝ × 10 ⅜ in. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection (B1977.14.4468).

Photo courtesy of Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection (Public Domain)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) after John Robert Cozens (1752-1797)
  • Lake Bolsena
1794 - 1797
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on wove paper, on an early mount
18.1 × 26.9 cm, 7 ⅛ × 10 ⅝ in
Mount Dimensions
36.3 × 49.5 cm, 14 ¼ × 19 ½ in

‘Lago di Bolsena’ on the back, by Thomas Girtin (pasted down, but noted by Alexander Finberg and used as the title)

Part of
Object Type
Collaborations; Monro School Copy
Subject Terms
Italian View: The Roman Campagna; Lake Scenery

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in November 2017


Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833); his posthumous sale, Christie's, 28 June 1833, lot 78 as ‘A book containing 62 interesting sketches in the neighbourhood of Rome and Naples, by Turner, in Indian ink and blue’; bought by Thomas Griffith on behalf of Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), £21; accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest, 1856

Exhibition History

Sheffield and tour, 1891-1930 (no catalogue covering all the venues, but numbered 7)


Finberg, 1909, vol.2, p.1229 as '"Lago di Bolsena"' by Thomas Girtin; Bell and Girtin, 1935, p.48; Turner Online as 'A View on the Lake of Bolsena' by Joseph Mallord William Turner and Thomas Girtin (Accessed 08/09/2022)

About this Work

This view of Lake Bolsena, a volcanic lake in central Italy, is mounted in an album of watercolours bought by Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851) at the posthumous sale of Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833) (Exhibitions: Christie’s, 28 June 1833, lot 78). The sixty-four drawings were the outcome of a unique collaboration between Girtin and Turner working together at Monro’s London home at the Adelphi. Here the artists 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

Monro’s posthumous sale in 1833 contained only twenty or so sketches by John Robert Cozens (1752–97), so the patron must have borrowed the majority of the ‘outlines or unfinished drawings’ copied by Girtin and Turner. In this case, the source of the watercolour, a simple outline inscribed ‘Lago di Bolsena’ (see the image above), was almost certainly purchased at the sale of ‘Mr COZENS’ in July 1794 by Sir George Beaumont (1753–1827).2 As Kim Sloan has noted, Beaumont mounted ‘215 “tracings” or drawings on oiled paper’ in an album that he presumably lent to Monro, and it was from this collection, now at the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, that the two young artists produced more than fifty watercolours (Sloan and Joyner, 1993, pp.89–91). The outline on which this watercolour is based is part of a group of sketches that may have been made by Cozens during his stay in and around Rome from November 1776 through to March 1779, though, as Sloan has pointed out, it is also possible that they were traced from drawings made by his father, Alexander Cozens (1717–86), on his earlier trip to Italy (Sloan, 1986, pp.127–28). Certainly, none of the compositions in this group of drawings were realised as watercolours by John, and this possibly encouraged Monro to commission a finished work for his collection. The view appears to have been taken slightly inland from the lake, not far from Montefiascone, and looking west towards the twin islands of Bisentina and Martana.

The album containing this drawing was sold in 1833 as the work of Turner, but the cataloguer of the Turner Bequest, Alexander Finberg, thought that Girtin alone was responsible for the watercolours, whilst more recently Andrew Wilton has established their joint authorship (Finberg, 1909, vol.2, p.1229; Wilton, 1984a, pp.8–23). Identifying the division of labour within Monro School drawings is considerably helped, as here, when the colour washes leave much of the pencil work showing through. However, the quality of the pencil work and, indeed, the colour washes too is hardly of the highest standards, and, as with the comparable view of Lake Vico (TG0636), the substandard quality raises the question of whether the use of such a basic source encouraged the artists to take shortcuts, especially if, as seems likely, the sketch itself was simply traced by Girtin. This is certainly the conclusion I take from overlaying images of the two works, which reveals a striking congruence between the two; it was therefore left to Turner to obscure the essentially mechanical task of replication. But Turner too may have practised his own form of labour saving by working on more than one drawing at a time, moving from sheet to sheet, adding a single tone to each in turn, and this would certainly help to explain the similar feel between this work and the view of Lake Vico.

Image Overlay

1794 - 1797

Lake Vico, from the Hill of Viterbo


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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