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

Lake Maggiore, from Isola Bella

1794 - 1797

Primary Image: TG0759: (?) Thomas Girtin (1775–1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), after John Robert Cozens (1752–97), Lake Maggiore, from Isola Bella, 1794–97, graphite and watercolour on wove paper, 14.8 × 23 cm, 5 ⅞ × 9 in. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection (B1975.4.1425).

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 Maggiore, from Isola Bella
1794 - 1797
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on wove paper
14.8 × 23 cm, 5 ⅞ × 9 in

'56' on the back

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

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Gallery Website


Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833); his posthumous sale, possibly Christie's, 2 July 1833, lot 123 as 'Isola Bella, Isola Borromeo, &c.' by 'Turner'; bought by 'Hixon', £3 10s; ... Martyn Gregory Ltd; bought by Paul Mellon (1907–99), 1971; presented to the Center, 1975

Exhibition History

New Haven, 1980, no.175 as ’From the Isola Borromea - Lago Maggiore’ by ’Monro School: J. M. W. Turner(?)’


YCBA Online as 'From the Isola Borromena, Lago Maggiore' by Joseph Mallord William Turner

About this Work

This view of sailing vessels on Lake Maggiore, seen from Isola Bella looking north, was copied from a composition by John Robert Cozens (1752–97) (see figure 1). It was produced at the home of Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833), where Girtin and his contemporary Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851) 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’. The majority of the resulting watercolours saw the two artists engaged in a unique collaboration; as they later recalled, Girtin ‘drew in outlines and Turner washed in the effects’. ‘They went at 6 and staid till Ten’ 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

Cozens’ on-the-spot sketch is inscribed ‘From the Isola Borromea – Lago Mag’, indicating that he observed the view during the return leg of his second trip to the Continent, in the autumn of 1783, when he visited Isola Bella, one of the Borromean Islands, which are on Lake Maggiore (Bell and Girtin, 1935, no.414). The sketch is found in the last of the seven sketchbooks that are associated with a visit that began with a journey to Naples in the company of his patron William Beckford (1760–1844). It is unlikely that the Monro School watercolour was copied directly from the sketch by Cozens, however. It would have been uncharacteristic of Beckford to have lent the sketchbooks to Monro, and the existence of a large number of tracings of their contents by Cozens himself suggests that the patron, rather than the artist, retained the books. An album put together by Sir George Beaumont (1753–1827), now in the collection of the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, includes more than seventy tracings from on-the-spot drawings in the first three of the sketchbooks, and these provided the basis for at least thirty Monro School works. There are only five tracings from the next three books, but there is no reason to think that others did not exist, and it was presumably from these lost copies by Cozens that as many as thirty-five more watercolours were produced by Girtin and Turner, including this, one of six views on Lake Maggiore, which also include A Wooded Shoreline on Lake Maggiore (TG0754) and Isola Bella on Lake Maggiore (TG0758). The fact that the Monro School copies never follow either the shading or the distribution of light seen in the on-the-spot sketches, though they always replicate the basic outlines, further suggests that Girtin and Turner generally worked from a tracing of the sketchbook view, and surely that was the case here as well.

The majority of the Italian scenes included in Monro’s posthumous sale were described as being by 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, Wilton has suggested that Turner was not just responsible for the ‘warm colour and easy suggestion of luminous space’ but also ‘the delicate pencil outline beneath the wash’, and that Girtin therefore had no involvement in the work (Wilton, 1980a, p.62). Certainly, this is one of the most subtly coloured of all of the Monro School subjects, and one of the few that might bear comparison with the watercolour that Cozens himself produced for Beckford (see figure 2) from his own on-the-spot sketch. However, I am not fully convinced by Wilton’s argument, as it seems to me that the greater delicacy of the pencil work is a function of the subject and that, whilst the visible lines are not obviously by Girtin, equally they are not clearly by Turner either. My default position on the attribution of the Monro School copies of Cozens’ works is to follow the division of labour as described by Turner and Girtin to Farington in 1798 unless there is clear stylistic evidence that points to the sole authorship of either artist.

1794 - 1797

A Wooded Shoreline on Lake Maggiore


1794 - 1797

Isola Bella on Lake Maggiore


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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