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

Lake Maggiore

1794 - 1797

Primary Image: TG0686: (?) Thomas Girtin (1775–1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), after (?) John Robert Cozens (1752–97), Lake Maggiore, 1794–97, graphite and watercolour on wove paper, 29.3 × 46 cm, 11 ½ × 18 ½ in. Tate, Turner Bequest CCCLXXV, 11 (D36532).

Photo courtesy of Tate (All Rights Reserved)

(?) Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) after (?) John Robert Cozens (1752-1797)
  • Lake Maggiore
1794 - 1797
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on wove paper
29.3 × 46 cm, 11 ½ × 18 ½ in

‘Lago Maggiore’ on the back, by (?) Thomas Girtin

Object Type
Collaborations; Monro School Copy
Subject Terms
Italian View: The North; Lake Scenery

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in December 2017


Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833); his posthumous sale, possibly Christie's, 27 June 1833, lot 96 as 'The Lago Maggiore, Vatican, &c. sketches in blue and Indian ink (10)'; bought by Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), £6 6s; accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest, 1856

Exhibition History

Second Loan Collection, 1869–1931, no.137


Finberg, 1909, vol.2, p.1234 as 'Lago Maggiore, Italy' by Thomas Girtin; Wilton, 1984a, p.18; Warrell, 1991, p.45; Turner Online as 'A View on Lake Maggiore' by Joseph Mallord William Turner and Thomas Girtin, 'c.1798' (Accessed 08/09/2022)

About this Work

This view of Lake Maggiore was bought by Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851) at the posthumous sale of Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833). It is one of several hundred drawings that resulted from the unique collaboration between Girtin and Turner at Monro’s home at the Adelphi in London. 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 Italian views completed at Monro’s home, it has not been possible to trace the source of this image of Lake Maggiore, which was taken from a boat looking west to Superiore, one of the Borromean Islands. In general, Girtin and Turner worked from compositions by John Robert Cozens (1752–97) and, more specifically, from sketches and tracings that he made during or after his two Italian visits, in 1776–79 and 1782–83. The auction of the artist’s work held in July 1794 contained twenty-seven ‘books of sketches’ and many hundreds of drawings made on his travels, and, as Kim Sloan has argued, given that Monro’s posthumous sale included only a few sketches by Cozens, the patron must have borrowed much of the material from which Girtin and Turner worked (Sloan and Joyner, 1993, pp.81–82).2 In this case, the Cozens sketch has either not survived or has not been recognised as his work, and nor is it entirely clear on which visit it was made. Cozens sketched a series of views on the lake in 1783 on his return trip to England, and six Monro School views were taken from this material, including TG0756 and TG0759. All of the watercolours are the same smaller dimensions as their sources, whilst this view of the lake conforms to the larger standard size of the sketches that Cozens produced on his journey through Switzerland to Rome in the autumn of 1776. Given that Maggiore might easily be fitted into the 1776 itinerary, I suspect that, in this case alone, the original sketch therefore dates from the earlier visit.

The watercolour was bought by Turner at Monro’s posthumous sale in 1833, where the vast majority of the Monro School copies were listed as being by Turner alone. The cataloguer of the Turner Bequest, Alexander Finberg, subsequently thought that just Girtin was responsible for the watercolours, though more recently Andrew Wilton has established their joint authorship (Finberg, 1909, vol.2, p.1234; Wilton, 1984a, pp.8–23). In this instance, however, Wilton has subsequently argued in the online catalogue of the Turner Bequest that there is a ‘strong likelihood that Turner alone was involved in making the drawing’, despite the fact the inscription on the back is probably by Girtin (D36532). This nicely encapsulates the challenge of attributing the significant number of Monro School landscapes that, in contrast to scenes where architecture predominates, do not require a visible broken outline for their final effect. Although the issue has been complicated by the work’s poor, discoloured state, the result of being exposed to light at high levels for long periods, I suspect that the division of labour did not differ materially from the description that the two artists gave to Farington in 1798. A broad landscape such as this simply does not require extensive pencil work, and this, combined with the extra time that Turner spent on it, resulted in a more finished product with a relatively complex skyscape and carefully worked shadows on the broad expanse of water.

1794 - 1797

The Castle of Arona on Lake Maggiore


1794 - 1797

Lake Maggiore, from Isola Bella


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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