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

The Convent of San Francesco at Cava de' Tirreni

1794 - 1797

Primary Image: TG0726: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), after John Robert Cozens (1752–97), The Convent of San Francesco at Cava de' Tirreni, 1794–97, graphite and watercolour on paper, 17.5 × 22.9 cm, 6 ⅞ × 9 in. The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens, Gilbert Davis Collection (59.55.1280).

Photo courtesy of The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens, Gilbert Davis Collection (All Rights Reserved)

Artist's source: John Robert Cozens (1752–97), A Convent at la Cava, near Vietri, graphite on laid paper, 15.9 × 24.1 cm, 6 ¼ × 9 ½ in. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection (B1977.14.4557).

Photo courtesy of Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection (Public Domain)

Description
Creator(s)
Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) after John Robert Cozens (1752-1797)
Title
  • The Convent of San Francesco at Cava de' Tirreni
Date
1794 - 1797
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on paper
Dimensions
17.5 × 22.9 cm, 6 ⅞ × 9 in
Object Type
Collaborations; Monro School Copy
Subject Terms
Italian View: Naples and Environs

Collection
Catalogue Number
TG0726
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001

Provenance

Squire Gallery, London, 1934–38; bought by Gilbert Davis (1899–1983), 1947; bought from him by the Gallery, 1959

Exhibition History

Squire Gallery, 1934, no.36; Squire Gallery, 1938b, no.36

Bibliography

Bell and Girtin, 1935, p.59; The Huntington Online as 'Italian Country Church ... attributed to Joseph Mallord William Turner' (Accessed 09/09/2022)

About this Work

This view of the Franciscan convent at Cava de’ Tirreni, near Vietri on the Neapolitan coast, 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 ‘A Convent at La cava near Vietri – Septr-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 on a second visit to Italy, in 1782 (Bell and Girtin, 1935, no.267), when the artist 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)), 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 sketch on which this work was ultimately based was made on the return to Naples and shows one of the many convents picturesquely sited amongst the region’s hills.

The bulk of the works sold at Monro’s posthumous sale in 1833 were attributed to Turner alone, but, despite the pioneering article published by Andrew Wilton in 1984, which established the joint authorship of many of the Monro School copies, this work is still listed by its owner as solely by Turner (Wilton, 1984a, pp.8–23). This is not entirely surprising given that the watercolour has been quite heavily worked by Turner with a full palette of colours, and this, as far as one can tell from an online image, has effaced much, if not all, of Girtin’s characteristic pencil work. The question then is, if nothing of Girtin’s outline remains visible, does it follow that this view departs from the general practice of the artists at Monro’s house? Although the point can clearly never be proved, I suspect that Girtin was involved in the production of this work, albeit at the most basic level, tracing the outlines from Cozens’ sketch; it was Turner’s more onerous task to obscure the essentially mechanical task of replication and produce something that approximates to a finished work.

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 A full record of the sale is available in the Documents section of the Archive (1794 – Item 1)

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