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

Lake Mont Cenis

1794 - 1797

Primary Image: TG0694: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), after John Robert Cozens (1752–97), Lake Mont Cenis, 1794–97, graphite and watercolour on wove paper, 13.5 × 19.3 cm, 5 ¼ × 7 ⅝ in. Tate, Turner Bequest CCCLXXVI, 2 (D36561).

Photo courtesy of Tate (All Rights Reserved)

Artist's source: John Robert Cozens (1752–97), Lake on the Top of Mont Cenis, graphite and varnish on laid paper, 14.6 × 18.7 cm, 5 ¾ × 7 ⅜ in. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection (B1977.14.4494).

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 Mont Cenis
1794 - 1797
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on wove paper
13.5 × 19.3 cm, 5 ¼ × 7 ⅝ in

‘Lake on the top of Mt Cenis’ on the back, by Thomas Girtin

Object Type
Collaborations; Monro School Copy
Subject Terms
French View: The Alps; Hills and Mountains; Lake Scenery

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in January 2018


Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833); his posthumous sale, possibly Christie's, 2 July 1833, lot 115 as 'Naples, lake on Mount Cenis, lake of Como (3)' by 'Turner'; bought by 'Moon, Boys', £7 10s; Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851); accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest, 1856


Finberg, 1909, vol.2, p.1237 as '"Lake on the top of Mt. Cenis"' by Thomas Girtin; Bell and Girtin, 1935, p.50; Turner Online as 'A Lake in the Pass of Mount Cenis' by Joseph Mallord William Turner and Thomas Girtin (Accessed 08/09/2022)

About this Work

This view of the Alpine lake in the pass of Mont Cenis was bought at the posthumous sale of Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833) by Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851). Although not in the best condition, the watercolour displays many of the signs that mark the unique collaboration between Girtin and his contemporary Turner at the home of their mutual patron at the Adelphi. Here the artists 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

The view is based on a simple outline drawing inscribed ‘Lake on the Top of Mt Cenis’ that is mounted in an album now at the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven (see the source image above). Monro’s posthumous sale, in 1833, contained only twenty or so sketches by Cozens, so the patron must have borrowed the majority of the ‘outlines or unfinished drawings’ copied by Girtin and Turner. In this case, the source of the watercolour was almost certainly purchased at the sale of ‘Mr COZENS’ in July 1794 by Sir George Beaumont (1753–1827).2 As Kim Sloan has noted, Beaumont mounted ‘215 “tracings” or drawings on oiled paper’ in an album that he presumably lent to Monro, and it was from this collection that the two young artists produced more than fifty watercolours (Sloan and Joyner, 1993, pp.89–91). The Cozens outline was probably sketched on his return to England in 1779, when it appears that he crossed the Alps at Mont Cenis having set out from Turin, and it is possible to trace his route in a series of Monro School watercolours that include The Village of Bramans in the Haute Maurienne in Savoy (TG0509) and A Distant View of the Alps, Taken from the Plains North of Turin (TG0691). Cozens actually crossed the Alps at Mont Cenis again in 1783, but none of the sketches he made in the last of the seven sketchbooks associated with that journey accord with a Monro School view, and a lost drawing from the earlier trip still seems the likeliest source.

The bulk of the Monro School copies that were sold in the patron’s posthumous sale were catalogued as by Turner alone, but in recent years, following the publication of Andrew Wilton’s pioneering article in 1984, their joint attribution has become the norm (Wilton, 1984a, pp.8–23). Identifying the division of labour within Monro School drawings is considerably helped, as here, when the colour washes leave much of the pencil work showing through. Neither element of the production process – pencil outline or the addition of colour washes – is of the highest quality, however, though there is no reason to suspect that the work departed from the practice described by the artists themselves to Farington in 1798. Overlaying images of the Monro School watercolour and the Cozens sketch suggests that Girtin did little more than trace the general outlines of the simple composition; it was therefore left to Turner to obscure the essentially mechanical task of replication, though in this case the rather harsh outlines remain only too visible. Superimposing the images also reveals the fact that the copy even replicates the forms of the clouds seen in the outline drawing, and this does not help the effect of the watercolour, which has a particularly unconvincing sky as a result.

Image Overlay

1794 - 1797

The Village of Bramans in the Haute Maurienne in Savoy


1794 - 1797

A Distant View of the Alps, Taken from the Plains North of Turin


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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