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

Portici: The Imperial Minister's Villa, near the Harbour of Granatello

1794 - 1797

Primary Image: TG0715: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), after John Robert Cozens (1752–97), Portici: The Imperial Minister's Villa, near the Harbour of Granatello, 1794–97, graphite and watercolour on wove paper, 16 × 22.5 cm, 6 ¼ × 8 ¾ in. Private Collection.

Photo courtesy of Paul Mellon Centre Photographic Archive, PA-F05206-0041 (CC BY-NC 4.0)

Artist's source: John Robert Cozens (1752–97), The Imperial Minister's Villa, near the Granatello, Portici, graphite and varnish on laid paper, 16.5 × 24.4 cm, 6 ½ × 9 ⅝ in. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection (B1977.14.4461).

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)
  • Portici: The Imperial Minister's Villa, near the Harbour of Granatello
1794 - 1797
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on wove paper
16 × 22.2 cm, 6 ¼ × 8 ¾ in

'W Turner' lower left, not by the artist

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

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in September 2023


Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833); his posthumous sale, Christie's, 2 July 1833, lot 133 as 'The minister's villa at Portici, Cardinal Spinelli's palace, &c. 3' by 'Turner'; bought by 'Hixon', £4 8s; ... 'Bowater Collection, no.6' (according to a label on the back); property of a lady; Sotheby's, 11 July 1985, lot 140 as by Joseph Mallord William Turner, unsold; Thos. Agnew & Sons, 1986 (stock no.47483)

Exhibition History

Untraced exhibition or sale, no.58 as 'An Italian Villa' by Joseph Mallord William Turner; Agnew’s, 1986, no.19 as by Joseph Mallord William Turner

About this Work

This view of a seafront villa at Granatello, the port of Portici, near Naples, was copied from a composition by John Robert Cozens (1752–97) (see source image TG0715). 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

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, a simple outline inscribed ‘The Imperial minister’s Villa near the Granatello – Portici – August 28’, was almost certainly purchased at Cozens’ studio sale 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, now at the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, that the two young artists produced more than fifty watercolours (Sloan and Joyner, 1993, pp.89–91). The source drawing was traced by Cozens himself from an on-the-spot sketch he made in 1782 on a second visit to Italy (Bell and Girtin, 1935, no.248), when the artist travelled with his patron William Beckford (1760–1844) and stayed in the Naples area for four months. The sketch is contained in the second of seven sketchbooks that survive from the trip (The Whitworth, Manchester (D.1975.5.19)), and it was presumably traced by Cozens because the books were retained by Beckford. The villa, situated close to the port of Portici, was one of a number of residences built for foreign envoys and courtiers who needed access to the new royal palace, and these included Sir William Hamilton (1730–1803), the British envoy, with whom Beckford and his party resided in August 1782. It was from here that Cozens explored the area around Herculaneum, at the foot of Vesuvius, and the sketches he made there ultimately resulted in at least eight Monro School subjects.

The bulk of the works sold at Monro’s posthumous sale in 1833 were attributed to Turner alone, but, despite the pioneering article published by Andrew Wilton that established the joint authorship of many of the Monro School copies, this work was still listed as solely by Turner in 1986 when it last appeared on the art market (Wilton, 1984a, pp.8–23). This is not entirely surprising given that the watercolour has been quite heavily worked with a full palette of colours, which has effaced much of the pencil work. Arguably, just enough of Girtin's inventive touches are still apparent, particularly in the building, to point to his involvement in its production, albeit at the most basic level, copying the outlines from a Cozens tracing; it was Turner’s more onerous task to obscure the essentially mechanical practice of replication and produce something that approximates to a finished work. In this case it must be said that Turner has not been altogether successful as the structural logic of the building and its relation to the wall in front has broken down and the perspective in a band to the right of the area of the drawing where the paper has been left untouched is uncertain if not confusing. However, looking again at the perfunctory Cozens tracing from which Girtin worked the problem appears to lie with the ambiguous source material, and after finally viewing the work I am happy to put aside doubts about the attribution of the colouring to Turner. Ironically, the inscription of ‘W Turner’ in the lower left corner is more of a hindrance as far as the attribution is concerned as I strongly suspect that it was added later and it is not in the artist’s hand. None of the four hundred or so Monro School drawings that have a claim to be the result of a collaboration between Girtin and Turner has an authentic signature and there is no reason to believe that this might be the exception.

Portici: The Imperial Minister's Villa, near the Harbour of Granatello

A poor-quality copy of this composition by an anonymous artist appeared at auction in 2022 (Eastbourne Auctions, 16 March 2022, lot 981) and again on the art market in 2023 (see figure 1). It is inscribed ’T Girtin’ in the lower left corner, though it is no more credible than the similarly placed ‘Turner’ signature. I suspect that the copy was made by a family member working prior to the posthumous sale of the bulk of Dr Monro’s collection in 1833 and that it acquired the spurious ‘Girtin’ inscription even later. The style of the watercolour closely resembles that of a set of copies of Turner/Girtin collaborations which were probably made in the early 1830s by Alexander Monro (1802–44). These were recorded in the 1930s by Thomas Girtin (1874–1960) in a series of sketches now in the Girtin Archive and they resurfaced in a sale in 2017 (Lacy Scott & Knight, 11 March 2017, lot 1464). These copies were not included in the 1833 Monro sale and were that part of the family collection that passed through the hands of a descendant, May Le Geyt (d.1942) and she or another member of the Monro family may have inherited this work.

1794 - 1797

Portici: The Imperial Minister’s Villa, near the Harbour of Granatello


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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