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

Solfatara, near Naples

1794 - 1797

Primary Image: TG0666: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802) and (?) Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), after (?) John Robert Cozens (1752–97), Solfatara, near Naples, 1794–97, graphite and watercolour on wove paper, 20.1 × 34.5 cm, 7 ⅞ × 13 ⅝ in. British Museum, London (1958,0712.393).

Photo courtesy of The Trustees of the British Museum (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) and (?) Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) after (?) John Robert Cozens (1752-1797)
  • Solfatara, near Naples
1794 - 1797
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on wove paper
20.1 × 34.5 cm, 7 ⅞ × 13 ⅝ in
Object Type
Collaborations; Monro School Copy
Subject Terms
Italian View: Naples and Environs

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001 and 2018


John Rushout, 2nd Baron Northwick (1769–1859); then by descent to John, Lord Northwick; his sale, Sotheby's, 4 November 1920, lot 477 as by Joseph Mallord William Turner, unsold; his posthumous sale, Sotheby’s, 6 July 1921, lot 178 as by Joseph Mallord William Turner; bought by Thos. Agnew & Sons (stock no.46), £10 plus 5 per cent commission, for Robert Wylie Lloyd (1868-1958) (lent to London, 1922); bequeathed to the Museum, 1958

Exhibition History

London, 1922, no.71 as by ’J. M. W. Turner after J. R. Cozens’


Sloan, 1998, p.145 as 'Solfatara, near Naples' by 'J.M.W. Turner ... (Monro school, after John Robert Cozens)'; British Museum, Collection as by Joseph Mallord William Turner

About this Work

This view of Solfatara, the shallow volcanic crater at Pozzuoli, near Naples, 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

As with many of the Monro School drawings of Italian scenes, it has not been possible to trace the source for this view of the water-filled dormant volcano, part of the Phlegraean Fields, which still emit jets of steam with sulphurous fumes. Surprisingly, given the fame of the site, John Robert Cozens (1752–97) is not known to have sketched the volcanic district, but he certainly visited nearby Pozzuoli and he remains the likeliest candidate as the author of the sketch on which this work was based. This presumably took the form of an outline drawing made on one of his visits to Naples, either in 1777 or in 1782–83, and it would have been surprising had the auction of Cozens’ work held in July 1794 not contained a view of the area amongst the twenty-seven ‘books of sketches’ and many hundreds of unitemised drawings made on his travels.2 As Kim Sloan has argued, Monro’s posthumous sale included only a few sketches by Cozens, so the patron must have borrowed the bulk of the material from which Girtin and Turner worked from a purchaser at the sale, though in this case, as in many others, it has either been lost or remains unrecognised (Sloan and Joyner, 1993, pp.81–82).

The majority of the Italian scenes sold at Monro’s posthumous sale were attributed to Turner alone, and this generally remained the case until the publication of Andrew Wilton’s pioneering article in 1984, since when the joint attribution of the Monro School works to Turner and Girtin has increasingly become the norm (Wilton, 1984a, pp.8–23). In this case, however, the British Museum has retained the attribution to Turner, and, given the very subtle and high quality of Turner’s use of watercolour, this is quite understandable (Sloan, 1998, p.38). However, and granted that this is far from an exact science, I cannot see any significant differences between the pencil work in this drawing, which is clearly visible in many areas, and that which is evident in numerous works in the Turner Bequest that are attributed to both artists. It is true that in a broad landscape line plays a much less significant role than in an architectural subject, but the pencil work does not seem to me to be different qualitatively from, say, that found in the unfinished view of Naples, Castel Sant’Elmo and the Convent of San Martino (TG0659). Moreover, the fact that the washes achieve a rare sophistication does not in itself negate Girtin’s admittedly minor contribution. Indeed, I would go even further to suggest that if either of the two artists were responsible for the sole execution of the work, then it would be Girtin at whom we should be looking. The very broad handling of the watercolour washes with the addition of decorative flourishes with the tip of the brush in areas of darker tones has too much in common with Girtin’s work of around 1796–97 for a reattribution not to be worthy of at least some debate.

1794 - 1797

Naples: Castel Sant’Elmo and the Convent of San Martino


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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