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

The View from the Bridge at Unterseen

1794 - 1797

Primary Image: TG0465: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802) and (?) Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851) after John Robert Cozens (1752–97), The View from the Bridge at Unterseen, 1794–97, graphite and watercolour on wove paper, 23.6 × 36.9 cm, 9 ¼ × 14 ½ in. Birmingham Museums & Art Gallery (1953P411).

Photo courtesy of Birmingham Museums Trust (All Rights Reserved)

Description
Creator(s)
Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) and (?) Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) after John Robert Cozens (1752-1797)
Title
  • The View from the Bridge at Unterseen
Date
1794 - 1797
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on wove paper
Dimensions
23.6 × 36.9 cm, 9 ¼ × 14 ½ in
Object Type
Collaborations; Monro School Copy; Work from a Known Source: Contemporary British
Subject Terms
Hills and Mountains; River Scenery; Swiss View

Collection
Catalogue Number
TG0465
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001 and June 2024

Provenance

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; ... James Leslie Wright (1862–1954); presented to the Museum, 1953

Exhibition History

London, 1949, no.231

Bibliography

Rose, 1980, p.57 as by Joseph Mallord William Turner

About this Work

This view along the river Aare 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 View from the Bridge at Unterseen

The view from the bridge at Unterseen was copied from a composition by John Robert Cozens (1752–97) (see figure 1; Bell and Girtin, 1935, no.16), 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 foliage and the snow-capped mountain 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. My concerns here centre on the very mechanical down strokes used in a band across the middle ground to depict a line of fir trees and on the way that the same unmodulated wash is used for both the vertical cliff face and the upland meadow in the distant mountain to the right of the composition. The resulting lack of spatial clarity in the latter area is particularly uncharacteristic of Turner’s work even on the least worked up Monro School subjects. The pencil work is a different matter, however, and, though it is impossible to be certain, the economical but varied touch suggests that Girtin produced the basic outline. 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 artists and amateurs who enjoyed the patron’s support or friendship.

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).

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