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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 on Lake Como was copied from a composition by John Robert Cozens (1752–97) that he executed as a small monochrome study (see figure 1; Bell and Girtin, 1935, no.50), part of a group of eleven signed drawings all on the same scale and uniformly mounted with their titles added below. The Cozens drawing is inscribed ‘Lago di Como’, a place that he visited in the late summer of 1776 on the way to the Italian peninsular. Six of the compositions provided the basis for Monro School copies (see also TG0485, TG0492, TG0494, TG0495, TG0600), but as each are larger to varying degrees than the 26.8 × 18.7 cm (10 ½ × 7 ⅜ in) of the Cozens drawings it is clear that they were not used by Girtin as his source material. Moreover, one of the group titled by Cozens ‘The Approach to Martigny, Rhone Valley, Valais' (Leeds Art Gallery (13.88/53)) is based on a larger on-the-spot drawing dated 1776 now in the Sir John Soane's Museum (44/12/15). Cozens' outline measures 22.9 × 36.2 cm (9 × 14 ¼ in) and given that the Monro School copies by Girtin and Turner invariably follow the dimensions of their source material it is not unreasonable to conclude that the rest of this group of drawings was developed from untraced sketches made by the older artist on his first visit to the Continent. Only one of Cozens’ sketches from 1776 has survived, but others from a year later are consistently large in scale and are generally little more than summary outlines (see TG0589 figure1), 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 a little further than was usual. Perhaps as a consequence of the changess an element of uncertainty also hangs over the subject of the work. 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

1794 - 1797

Lake Klöntal, the View Looking West


1794 - 1797

The Lake of Mezzola, near Chiavenna, Lake Como in the Distance


1794 - 1797

Castelmur Castle, in the Village of Bondo


1794 - 1797

A Ravine in the Viamala, between Chur and Chiavenna


1794 - 1797

An Unidentified Valley with Travellers, Possibly in Switzerland


1794 - 1797

Tivoli: ‘The Temple of the Sibyl’, Seen from Below


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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