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

Lake Trasimeno

1794 - 1797

Primary Image: TG0640: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851) after John Robert Cozens (1752–97), Lake Trasimeno, 1794–97, graphite and watercolour on wove paper, 19.3 × 24.7 cm, 7 ⅝ × 9 ¾ in. Tate, Turner Bequest CCCLXXV, 22 (D36543).

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 Trasimeno
1794 - 1797
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on wove paper
19.3 × 24.7 cm, 7 ⅝ × 9 ¾ in

‘Lake of Perugia ancient Thra[?simeno]’ on the back, by (?) Thomas Girtin

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

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in December 2017


Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833); his posthumous sale, Christie's, 26–28 June and 1–2 July 1833 (day and lot number not known); bought by Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851); accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest, 1856


Finberg, 1909, vol.2, p.1235 as '"Lake of Perugia..." Perhaps Lake Trasimeno in Perugia' by Thomas Girtin; Wilton, 1984a, p.17 as 'Lake of Perugia antient Thrasimene'; Turner Online as 'Lake Trasimene' by Joseph Mallord William Turner and Thomas Girtin (Accessed 08/09/2022)

About this Work

This rather slight and damaged view of Lake Trasimeno in Umbria is mounted in an album of watercolours bought by Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851) at the posthumous sale of Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833) (Exhibitions: Christie’s, 28 June 1833, lot 78). The sixty-four drawings were the outcome of a unique collaboration between Girtin and Turner working together at Monro’s London home 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

Lake of Perugia (Lake Trasimeno), between Florence and Rome

The Monro School view of Lake Trasimeno is based on a composition by John Robert Cozens (1752–97) that is known from a small monochrome watercolour (see figure 1) (Bell and Girtin, 1935, no.90). The status of that work is far from clear: was it made on the spot or was it part of a set of sketch-like studio works produced on commission (Sloan, 1986, p.124)? On balance, I suspect the latter and that although both works measure roughly the same, the Monro School view was probably worked from another source that has subsequently been lost. This is likely to have been a sketch made during Cozens’ first Italian trip, between November 1776 and March 1779. 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 The fact that Cozens did not make a watercolour from his sketch was perhaps the attraction for Monro, who was thus able to commission a finished composition that, potentially at least, might evoke something of the historical significance of the site – the battle in the Second Punic War at which the Carthaginian general Hannibal defeated the Roman army – though the outcome is actually one of the slightest drawings in the albums that Monro assembled.

The album containing this drawing was sold in 1833 as the work of Turner, but the cataloguer of the Turner Bequest, Alexander Finberg, thought that Girtin alone was responsible for many of the watercolours, whilst more recently Andrew Wilton has established their joint authorship (Finberg, 1909, vol.2, p.1235; 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. The quality of Girtin’s pencil work is not of the highest standard, however, being hard and unvarying, and Turner’s washes are also comparatively slight. Indeed, although the sky is gently washed in, which is not always the case, there are signs that the work was simply not completed – or, perhaps more accurately, was not taken to its usual level of finish. In general, I am inclined to believe that such a falling off of standards in the Monro School subjects resulted from the time pressures placed on Turner and Girtin, rather than indicating the intervention of other, anonymous hands in the work. Moreover, the poor quality of a given watercolour, in itself, does not indicate that it departed from the division of labour that the two artists themselves described to Farington in 1798.

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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