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

Salerno: An Ancient Cypress in the Garden of the Franciscan Convent

1794 - 1797

Primary Image: TG0721: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802) and (?) Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), after John Robert Cozens (1752–97), Salerno: An Ancient Cypress in the Garden of the Franciscan Convent, 1794–97, graphite and watercolour on wove paper, 33.5 × 19.3 cm, 13 ⅛ × 7 ⅝ in. Tate, Turner Bequest CCCLXXV, 9 (D36530).

Photo courtesy of Tate (All Rights Reserved)

Artist's source: John Robert Cozens (1752–97), An Ancient Cypress in the Garden of the Franciscan Convent at Salerno, graphite and varnish on laid paper, 32.4 × 19.4 cm, 12 ¾ × 7 ⅝ in. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection (B1977.14.4529).

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)
  • Salerno: An Ancient Cypress in the Garden of the Franciscan Convent
1794 - 1797
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on wove paper
33.5 × 19.3 cm, 13 ⅛ × 7 ⅝ in
Object Type
Collaborations; Monro School Copy
Subject Terms
Italian View: Naples and Environs

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

Exhibition History

National Gallery, London, on display up to 1904, no.787


Ruskin, Works, vol.13, p.641 as 'A Convent Wall'; Finberg, 1909, vol.2, p.1234 as 'A convent wall' by Thomas Girtin; MacColl, 1920, p.136; Bell and Girtin, 1935, p.59; Turner Online as 'A Cypress in the Garden of the Franciscans at Salerno' by Joseph Mallord William Turner and Thomas Girtin (Accessed 13/09/2022)

About this Work

This view, looking into the garden of the Franciscan convent at Salerno, was copied from a composition by John Robert Cozens (1752–97) (see the source image above). 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 ‘Cypress in the Garden of the Franciscans – Salerno Sept 22’, 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.268), when he travelled with his patron William Beckford (1760–1844) and stayed in the Naples area for four months. The sketch is contained in the third of seven sketchbooks that survive from the trip (The Whitworth, Manchester (D.1975.6.8/9)), and it was presumably traced by Cozens because the books were retained by Beckford. Cozens travelled to Salerno in the middle of September, when, following Beckford’s departure, he was finally free to explore the scenery along the coast, making twenty sketches, which ultimately formed the sources of nine or so Monro School subjects.

The Cypress in the Garden of the Franciscan Convent at Salerno

The main subject of the original sketch, the eight-hundred-year-old cypress, is actually located on the other side of the wall, and, because Cozens did not have access to the garden of the Franciscan convent, he had to squeeze the tree into an unconventional narrow, upright view. Cozens’ works provided Girtin with a number of different compositional schemes, but just as influential was the principle that it was the subject that dictated the structure, and not the other way around. The work also includes a telling instance of the inevitable differences that occur between Monro School works and Cozens’ own treatment of the subjects as a result of the use of a simple outline drawing as the source. Misunderstanding the inscription and thinking that the convent was the structure to the left, the artists at Monro’s house crowned it with a ribbed dome, assuming it to be the curved apse end of a church, whereas the Cozens watercolour (see figure 1) depicts this as the flat wall of a domestic building with a prominent soffit. The point is that the outline tracing provided insufficient information, and the young artists, resorting to guesswork, ended up showing a wall that is flat at the base and curved at the top, where it meets the imagined form of the dome.

This is one of several hundred works bought by Turner at the posthumous sale of Monro’s collection in 1833, the bulk 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.1234; Wilton, 1984a, pp.18–19). Identifying the division of labour within Monro School drawings is considerably helped, as here, when the sparing application of colour washes leaves some of the pencil work untouched in order to create highlights. 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. However, in this case, there is some evidence that the watercolour washes too might have been applied by Girtin. The way in which a darker tone of grey has been added to a very generalised ground with the tip of the brush to create some lovely abstract patterns in the walls, left and right, is much more characteristic of Girtin’s work around 1796–97 than Turner’s, and I suspect that the latter was not involved in this work.

On a technical note, Peter Bower has described the support used here as a cream wove thick writing paper, probably manufactured by James Whatman the Younger (1741–98) at Turkey Mill, Maidstone, Kent (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).
  2. 2 A full record of the sale is available in the Documents section of the Archive (1794 – Item 1)

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