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

Lake Como

1794 - 1797

Primary Image: TG0503: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851) after John Robert Cozens (1752–97), Lake Como, 1794–97, graphite and watercolour on wove paper (watermark: J WHATMAN), 24.2 × 37.7 cm, 9 ½ × 14 ⅞ in. British Museum, London (1915,0313.84).

Photo courtesy of The Trustees of the British Museum (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) after (?) John Robert Cozens (1752-1797)
  • Lake Como
1794 - 1797
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on wove paper (watermark: J WHATMAN)
24.2 × 37.7 cm, 9 ½ × 14 ⅞ in
Object Type
Collaborations; Monro School Copy
Subject Terms
Italian View: The North; Lake Scenery

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001 and 2018


Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833); his posthumous sale, possibly Christie's, 2 July 1833, lot 115, one of three as 'Lake of Como' by 'Turner'; bought by 'Moon, Boys', £7 10s ... Charles Sackville Bale (1791–1880); his posthumous sale, Christie’s, 14 May 1881, lot 169; bought by Thos. Agnew & Sons, £15 15s (stock no.6097), for the Revd Charles John Sale (1817–96), plus 10% commission, 18 May 1881; his widow, Mary Sale (1824–1915); bequeathed to the Museum, 1915


Armstrong, 1902, p.247 as by Joseph Mallord William Turner; Bell and Girtin, 1935, p.35

About this Work

This view of a lakeside settlement on Lake Como in northern Italy 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

Lake Como

 The view of Lake Como appears to have been copied from a composition by John Robert Cozens (1752–97) that he executed as a small monochrome study for an unknown patron (see figure 1; Bell and Girtin, 1935, no.50). It is very unlikely that Monro had access to Cozens’ finished watercolours, however, and the work was probably copied either from an on-the-spot drawing made in September 1776 or from one of the tracings the artist was in the habit of producing from his own compositions. Cozens’ sketches from 1776 have not survived, but they were probably large in scale and little more than summary outlines, which would have needed careful interpretation to create the ‘finished drawings’ that Monro required for his collection, and this may account for differences between the monochrome and the Monro School drawing. Overlaying images of the two works shows that, although the overall dispositions of the landscape elements coincide, the forms of the mountains, in particular, differ as the contrasting distributions of light in the two works bring out disparate emphases. This is typical of all of the Monro School versions of known Cozens compositions, but in this case it goes that much further, leaving a sizeable question mark over the source. An element of uncertainty hangs over the subject of the work too. The Cozens watercolour is just inscribed ‘Lago di Como’, whilst the Monro School version includes no indication of the subject, and no more specific location immediately suggests itself. A view of Domaso, looking north, is one possibility, but the subject also bears some resemblance to A View of the Lake and City of Como by Francis Towne (1739–1816) (Towne Online, FT535). This is not enough to establish the location, however, so I have left the work with the general title of Lake Como.

Establishing the division of labour within a Monro School drawing is considerably helped, as here, when the colour washes leave much of the pencil work showing through. Although the nature of the subject did not require much detail, Girtin’s hand is apparent under Turner’s economical use of a simple monochrome palette.

Image Overlay

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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