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