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

The Town of Como, from the Lake

1794 - 1797

Primary Image: TG0500: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), after (?) John Robert Cozens (1752–97), The Town of Como, from the Lake, 1794–97, graphite and watercolour on paper, 24.1 × 36.2 cm, 9 ½ × 14 ¼ 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)
  • The Town of Como, from the Lake
1794 - 1797
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on paper
24.1 × 36.2 cm, 9 ½ × 14 ¼ in
Object Type
Collaborations; Monro School Copy
Subject Terms
Italian View: The North; Lake Scenery

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Sale 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, 18 March 1964, lot 18 as 'Como, a view from the lake' by Joseph Mallord William Turner; bought by Thos. Agnew & Sons, £150

Exhibition History

Agnew’s, 1965, no.41 as ’The Water Front at Como’ by Joseph Mallord William Turner, £350

About this Work

This view of the town of Como from the lake, with the cathedral prominent in the centre, 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

Although no source has been found in the extant works of John Robert Cozens (1752–97), there is little doubt that this watercolour, one of six Monro School views of Lake Como, was copied from a composition the artist sketched on his journey to Italy in 1776. Another Monro School view of the lake, possibly showing Como itself from a different angle (TG0503), was copied from a sketch that Cozens worked up into a finished watercolour, and there is no reason to suspect that the rest of the Como subjects had a different source. Cozens’ sketches from 1776 have not survived, but they were probably large in scale and little more than summary outlines, which would have needed careful interpretation to create the ‘finished drawings’ that Monro required for his collection. 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.

1794–97. Graphite and watercolour on paper, 24.1 × 36.2 cm, 9 ½ × 14 ¼ in. Private Collection.

The exact division of labour in the Monro School watercolours is rarely straightforward, particularly when, as here, the work is only known from an old black and white photograph. At this distance, all that can be said with any confidence is that there is nothing to suggest that this watercolour is anything other than a typical collaborative effort between Turner and Girtin. Another much inferior version of the composition, measuring the same and attributed to John Henderson (1764–1843), is in the collection of the Yale Center for British Art (see figure 1). This appears to have been copied from the Monro School watercolour, rather than a Cozens sketch, as the latter generally lack the complex reflections shown here.

1794 - 1797

Lake Como


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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