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

Rome: A Distant View of the Basilica of St John Lateran

1794 - 1797

Primary Image: TG0565: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851) after John Robert Cozens (1752–97), Rome: A Distant View of St John Lateran, 1794–97, graphite and watercolour on wove paper, 27.1 × 38.4 cm, 10 ⅝ × 15 ⅛ in. The Whitworth, The University of Manchester (D.1963.2).

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

Description
Creator(s)
Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) after John Robert Cozens (1752-1797)
Title
  • Rome: A Distant View of the Basilica of St John Lateran
Date
1794 - 1797
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on wove paper
Dimensions
27.1 × 38.4 cm, 10 ⅝ × 15 ⅛ in
Object Type
Collaborations; Monro School Copy
Subject Terms
Italian View: Modern Rome

Collection
Catalogue Number
TG0565
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001 and February 2020

Provenance

Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833); his posthumous sale, possibly Christie’s, 27 June 1833, lot 95 as 'The villa Negroni ... sketches in blue and Indian ink 10' by 'Turner'; bought by 'Moon', £8; ... Christie’s, 19 June 1869, no.59 as 'Villa Maggiore' by Joseph Mallord William Turner; bought by Thos. Agnew & Sons (stock no.9361); sold to William Langton, 13 December 1869; then by descent to Francis Margaret Langton (1882–1963); bequeathed through the National Art-Collections Fund, 1963

Exhibition History

Manchester, 1966, no.2 as by Joseph Mallord William Turner; Manchester, 1984, no.54 as 'Villa Negroni' by Thomas Girtin and Joseph Mallord William Turner; Manchester, 2010, no.12

Bibliography

Nugent, 2003, p.270 as 'Villa Negroni' by Joseph Mallord William Turner and Thomas Girtin

About this Work

This distant view of the great Basilica of St John Lateran in Rome displays many of the signs that mark the unique collaboration between Girtin and his contemporary Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851) at the home of Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833). Here they 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

Rome: St John Lateran from the South

The view of the monumental structure, looking from a landscape that gives few signs of the church's urban setting, is based on a composition by John Robert Cozens (1752–97) that he realised as a watercolour around 1783 (see figure 1). The watercolour, which has until recently been incorrectly identified as showing the Villa Negroni, was painted for Cozens’ patron William Beckford (1760–1844), and it is very unlikely that it would have been accessible to the two artists at Monro’s house.2 Instead, they would have worked from one of the sketches that Cozens probably made during his stay in Italy from November 1776 through to March 1779, though sadly few of these survive. 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,3 and, as Kim Sloan has argued, given that Monro’s posthumous sale included only a few sketches by Cozens, and no Roman views, the patron must have borrowed the bulk of the material from which Girtin and Turner worked (Sloan and Joyner, 1993, pp.81–82). The idea that the Monro School works were based on Cozens’ watercolours, still occasionally repeated in sales catalogues, is particularly untenable in this instance, as a comparison with the Beckford drawing shows. In place of the spectacular, deeply romantic image of the villa silhouetted against a moonlit sky, with a carefully considered figure group in a detailed foreground, the Monro School watercolour presents a bland, if not formulaic, landscape. This was the best that might have been expected given that the artists were working from a simple outline drawing and to a strict deadline, and the result is much closer to an on-the-spot sketch than a finished studio watercolour despite the two works being the same size.

This is not to say that the work does not have its attractions, despite the paper being discoloured through overexposure to light in the past. Turner’s economical use of a simple palette of blues and greys allows Girtin’s fluent and inventive pencil work to make an impact, and any further work on the sheet might have compromised the delightful interplay between line and colour that characterises the Monro School works at their best.

by Greg Smith

Place depicted

Footnotes

  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 The new identification was pointed out to me by Timothy Wilcox who is writing a book on the great series of watercolours painted by Cozens for William Beckford. Also visible in the view is the obelisk in front of the Lateran Palace to the right.
  3. 3 A full record of the sale is available in the Documents section of the Archive (1794 – Item 1)

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