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Works (?) Thomas Girtin and Joseph Mallord William Turner after (?) Edward Dayes

The Iron Bridge at Coalbrookdale

1794 - 1797

Primary Image: TG0783a: (?) Thomas Girtin (1775–1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851) after (?) Edward Dayes (1763–1804), The Iron Bridge at Coalbrookdale, 1794–97, graphite and watercolour on wove paper, 22.7 × 38.9 cm, 8 ¹⁵⁄₁₆ × 15 ⁵⁄₁₆ in. Private Collection.

Photo courtesy of Christie's

(?) Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) after (?) Edward Dayes (1763-1804)
  • The Iron Bridge at Coalbrookdale
1794 - 1797
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on wove paper
22.7 × 38.9 cm, 8 ¹⁵⁄₁₆ × 15 ⁵⁄₁₆ in
Object Type
Collaborations; Copy from an Unknown Source; Monro School Copy
Subject Terms
Industrial Scene; River Scenery; Shropshire View

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Auction Catalogue


Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833); his posthumous sale, possibly Christie's, 28 June 1833, lot 89 as 'Colebrooke Dale' by 'Turner' (one of six); bought by 'Linden', £3 7s; ... Christie's, New York, 25 May 1988, lot 302 as by Joseph Mallord William Turner, $17,600


Turner Studies, vol.8, no.1 (Summer 1988), p.58

About this Work

This view of the revolutionary cast-iron bridge built over the river Severn at Coalbrookdale in Shriopshire 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 the two artists were employed across three winters, probably between 1794 and 1797 to copy ‘the outlines or unfinished drawings of’ principally John Robert Cozens (1752–97), but other artists too, including Girtin’s master, Edward Dayes (1763–1804). The ‘finished drawings’ they were commissioned to produce were the result of a strict division of labour: ‘Girtin drew in outlines and Turner washed in the effects’. As the young artists reported to the diarist Joseph Farington, ‘They went at 6 and staid till Ten’ with Turner receiving ‘3s. 6d each night. – Girtin did not say what He had’ (Farington, Diary, 12 November 1798).1

Bedlam Furnace, Coalbrookdale

The source for the drawing has not been located, but it is unlikely that it was based on an on-the-spot sketch by either Girtin or Turner. However, Coalbrookdale, as Celina Fox has shown, attracted the attention of numerous artists who from the 1750s recorded the attractive mix of industrial activity and picturesque wooded river scenery for what she terms the market for images from ‘industrial tourism’ – that is, even before the world’s first cast-iron bridge opened in 1779 (Fox, 2009, pp.408–16). Amongst those who concentrated on the bridge itself was George Robertson (1748–88), whose drawings provided the basis of six prints (published in 1788) detailing the industrial activities of the gorge, and Girtin would have been familiar with his work from the collection of his first significant patron, James Moore (1762–99). However, a more likely source for the Monro drawing is in the work of one of the artists featured in the patron’s own collection, such as Michael Rooker (1746–1801), whose The Cast Iron Bridge near Coalbrook Dale dates from 1780 (Aberdeen Art Gallery (ABDAG003021)), or Girtin’s master, Dayes. His watercolour Bedlam Furnace, Coalbrookdale (see figure 1), was actually bought by Turner at Monro’s posthumous sale in 1833, and other sketches by Dayes may well have been amongst the hundreds of sheets in Monro’s possession. Indeed, if the watercolour was copied from Dayes, we can be reasonably sure that the original was no more than a rapid outline sketch. The manner in which the bridge terminates in an impossible way to the left in addition to the general fudging of architectural and engineering details, certainly in comparison with Rooker’s view, confirms not only that the drawing could not have been made from personal experience but also that the source material must have been either very slight or, if by an amateur artist rather than Dayes, deficient in every respect.

The majority of the copies sold at Monro’s posthumous sale were listed as being by Turner working 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). This work was listed as solely by Turner when it appeared at auction in 1988, and sadly it is known only from a black and white photograph. This is good enough to establish that more than one hand helped in its creation, but not to confirm that the pencil work is definitively by Girtin.

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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