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

The Benedictine Convent of Engelberg

1794 - 1797

Primary Image: TG0477: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802) and (?) Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851) after John Robert Cozens (1752–97), The Benedictine Convent of Engelberg, 1794–97, graphite and watercolour on paper, 23 × 36.5 cm, 9 × 14 ⅜ in. Private Collection.

Photo courtesy of Bridgeman Images, Bonhams (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) and (?) Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) after John Robert Cozens (1752-1797)
  • The Benedictine Convent of Engelberg
1794 - 1797
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on paper
23 × 36.5 cm, 9 × 14 ⅜ in
Object Type
Collaborations; Monro School Copy
Subject Terms
Hills and Mountains; River Scenery; Swiss View

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; ... Charles Sackville Bale (1791–1880); his posthumous sale, Christie’s, 14 May 1881, lot 177; bought by 'Agnew', £25 4s; Thos. Agnew & Sons, (stock no.6105); bought by James Garrick, 31 December 1881, £40; ... John Currie; Christie's, 16 June 1970, lot 120 as 'A Monastery in an Alpine Valley' by Joseph Mallord William Turner; bought by 'Lord Plowden', 600 gns; Phillips, 5 November 2001, lot 20 as 'A Monastery in an Alpine Village' by Joseph Mallord William Turner; bought by a UK private collector, £10,120

Exhibition History

Royal Glasgow Institute of Fine Arts, 1917 (catalogue untraced)

About this Work

This view of the famous monastery at Engelberg, twenty-five kilometres south of Lake Lucerne, 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

The Benedictine Convent of Engelberg

The view of the monastery high in the Alps in central Switzerland was copied from a composition by John Robert Cozens (1752–97) (see figure 1; Bell and Girtin, 1935, no.30), one of fifty-seven works that he probably executed for Richard Payne Knight (1751–1824) in 1776. It is highly unlikely that Monro had access to Cozens’ finished watercolours, however, 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 the same size as the watercolour but differs in the distribution of light on the buildings in the valley and on the snow-capped mountains in the distance, all of which would have been a matter of interpretation for an artist working from a simple drawing. In all, there are as many as sixty Monro School views of the Alpine scenery of France, Switzerland and northern Italy that can, with varying degrees of certainty, be associated with Cozens’ first trip to the Continent in 1776.

The exact division of labour in the Monro School watercolours is rarely straightforward, and in this case the poor quality of the application of washes throws the involvement of Turner into some doubt. The pencil work is a different matter, however, and, though it is impossible to be certain from a low-resolution image, the economical but varied touch suggests that the drawing is a copy by Girtin. Given that it would have taken him much less time to copy the outlines of a simple landscape composition than it would have taken Turner to add the colour, it is likely that there were a number of Girtin’s uncoloured drawings in Monro’s possession after the artists’ employment ended, and these may have attracted the attention of one or more of the numerous young professional and amateurs who enjoyed the patron’s support.

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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