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

Tell’s Chapel, Lake Lucerne, with the Frohnalpstock Beyond

1794 - 1797

Primary Image: TG0481: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), after (?) John Robert Cozens (1752–97), Tell's Chapel, Lake Lucerne, with the Fronalpstock Beyond, 1794–97, graphite and watercolour on paper, 24 × 37 cm, 9 ½ × 14 ½ in. Private Collection.

Photo courtesy of Sotheby's (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) after (?) John Robert Cozens (1752-1797)
  • Tell’s Chapel, Lake Lucerne, with the Frohnalpstock Beyond
1794 - 1797
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on paper
24 × 37 cm, 9 ½ × 14 ½ in
Object Type
Collaborations; Monro School Copy
Subject Terms
Lake Scenery; Swiss View

Tell’s Chapel, Lake Lucerne, with the Fronalpstock Beyond (TG0480)
Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Auction Catalogue


Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833); his posthumous sale, possibly Christie’s, 28 June 1833, lot 80 as 'A scrap-book, containing 66 sketches in Switzerland, in blue and Indian ink' by 'Turner'; bought by 'Hixon', £21 11s 6d; ... Sotheby’s, 25 November 1999, lot 17 as 'William Tell's Chapel, Lake Lucerne' by Joseph Mallord William Turner, £1,700

About this Work

This view of Lake Lucerne, with Tell’s Chapel on the shoreline in the centre of the composition, 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

This scene, one of six views of Lake Lucerne, was copied from a composition by John Robert Cozens (1752–97) (see TG0480; Bell and Girtin, 1935, no.37) that he probably executed for Richard Payne Knight (1751–1824) in 1776. It is highly unlikely that Monro had access to Cozens’ finished watercolours, and the work was presumably copied either from an on-the-spot drawing made in September 1776 or from one of the tracings the artist was in the habit of producing from his own compositions. Cozens’ sketches from 1776 have not survived, but they were probably large in scale and little more than summary outlines, and that would explain why the Monro School copy is roughly the same size as the Cozens watercolour but differs radically in the distribution of light on the vegetation on the banks and the distant mountain, the Fronalpstock, as well as displaying variations in the reflections in the water, all of which would have been a matter of interpretation for an artist working from a simple drawing.

The exact division of labour in the Monro School watercolours is rarely straightforward. This is particularly the case when, as here, the work is only known from a black and white photograph. At this distance all that can be said with any confidence is that there is nothing to suggest that the work is anything other than a typical collaborative effort between Turner and Girtin, despite the fact that it was catalogued as solely the work of Turner when it was last on the art market in 1999. The issue of attribution is made all the more difficult here by the fact that another version of the composition exists that is clearly a collaboration between the two artists (TG0480). It is difficult to see why Monro would have wanted to commission another version of the same composition, unless it were perhaps a second attempt to get the effect right. Overlaying images of the two versions shows how the mountain has been enlarged and the shoreline brought closer in this view, and this, together with the greater contrast that is gained from using a stronger palette of greys and blues, suggests a second try. Certainly the chapel, marking the spot where William Tell is said to have escaped his captors, is much more prominent.

1794 - 1797

Tell’s Chapel, Lake Lucerne, with the Fronalpstock Beyond


1794 - 1797

Tell’s Chapel, Lake Lucerne, with the Fronalpstock Beyond


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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