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

Naples: An Unidentified Convent, with Vesuvius in the Distance

1794 - 1797

Primary Image: TG0739: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), after John Robert Cozens (1752–97), Naples: An Unidentified Convent, with Vesuvius in the Distance, 1794–97, graphite and watercolour on wove paper, 18.2 × 48.8 cm, 7 ⅛ × 19 ¼ in. Tate, Turner Bequest CCCLXXV, 20 (D36541).

Photo courtesy of Tate (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) after John Robert Cozens (1752-1797)
  • Naples: An Unidentified Convent, with Vesuvius in the Distance
1794 - 1797
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on wove paper
18.2 × 48.8 cm, 7 ⅛ × 19 ¼ in

‘Convent at Naples / Snow on the Top of Vesuvius’ on the back, by Thomas Girtin

Object Type
Collaborations; Monro School Copy
Subject Terms
Italian View: Naples and Environs; Panoramic Format

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 '"Convent at Naples. Snow on the Top of Vesuvius"' by Thomas Girtin; Bell and Girtin, 1935, p.67; Turner Online as by Joseph Mallord William Turner and Thomas Girtin (Accessed 09/09/2022)

About this Work

This view of an unidentified convent in Naples, with a view of Vesuvius with snow on the summit in the background, 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’, 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

A Convent at Naples, with Vesuvius in the Distance

Figure 1.
John Robert Cozens (1752–97), A Convent at Naples, with Vesuvius in the Distance, from the Beckford Sketchbooks, vol.5, pp.2–3, 17 November 1782, graphite and watercolour on paper, 17.8 × 48.2 cm, 7 × 19 in. The Whitworth, The University of Manchester (D.1975.8.2/3).

Digital image courtesy of The Whitworth, The University of Manchester / Photo by Michael Pollard (All Rights Reserved).

Cozens’ on-the-spot sketch is inscribed ‘Convent at Naples – Novr. 17.1782’ (Bell and Girtin, 1935, no.320), though strangely, given its substantial scale, it has not been possible to identify the location of the building. The drawing is found in the fifth of the seven sketchbooks from Cozens’ second Italian trip, which saw the artist travel 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 panoramic view of a convent on a hill looking west towards Vesuvius. 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 worked from tracings of the sketchbook views. In this case, the issue is clinched by the fact that the back of the Monro School drawing is inscribed with a note about ‘Snow on the Top of Vesuvius’, which is not included in the on-the-spot drawing; Girtin must therefore have copied this from the lost tracing.

This is one of several hundred works bought by Turner at Monro’s posthumous sale in 1833, all of which were attributed to him alone. The cataloguer of the Turner Bequest, Alexander Finberg, in contrast thought that Girtin 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 by Turner leave large areas untouched in order to create highlights, so that Girtin’s pencil work is clearly evident. In practice, Girtin did little more than trace the general outlines of the composition and it was left to Turner to obscure the essentially mechanical task of replication, though in this instance there is an air of incompleteness about the work as the distant view of the city and the snow-capped summits of Vesuvius and Somma have been left untouched. The prosaic air of such works, however, should not obscure the broader importance of the exercise for Turner, and particularly Girtin. Cozens’ sketches include a number of panoramic views, which provided the artist with his first lessons in how to organise a broader expanse of landscape.

On a technical note, the paper historian Peter Bower has identified the support used here as a cream wove large post writing paper, probably manufactured by James Whatman the Younger (1741–98) at the Turkey Mill, Maidstone, Kent, and this is likely to have been used for the majority of the works produced at Monro’s house (Bower, Report).

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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