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

Tonbridge Bridge and Castle

1795 - 1796

Primary Image: TG0845: (?) Thomas Girtin (1775–1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), after (?) Edward Dayes (1763–1804), Tonbridge Bridge and Castle, 1795–96, graphite and watercolour on wove paper (watermark: J WHATMAN), 19.8 × 27.7 cm, 7 ¾ × 10 ⅞ in. The Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge (1588).

Photo courtesy of The Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge (All Rights Reserved)

(?) Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) after (?) Edward Dayes (1763-1804)
  • Tonbridge Bridge and Castle
1795 - 1796
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on wove paper (watermark: J WHATMAN)
19.8 × 27.7 cm, 7 ¾ × 10 ⅞ in
Object Type
Copy from an Unknown Source; Monro School Copy
Subject Terms
Castle Ruins; Dover and Kent; River Scenery

Tonbridge Bridge and Castle (TG0192)
Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001


Foster’s, 9 March 1859, lot 126; Richard Ellison (1788–1860); the posthumous sale of his widow, Christie’s, 16 May 1874, lot 170 as 'Tunbridge Wells. Probably engraved for the "Lady’s Pocket Magazine", 1795' by Joseph Mallord William Turner'; bought by 'Vokins' for £105; John Ruskin (1819–1900) (lent to London, 1878); then by bequest to Arthur Severn (1842–1931); his posthumous sale, Sotheby’s, 20 May 1931, lot 117 as 'Tonbridge Castle' by Joseph Mallord William Turner; bought by the Friends of the Fitzwilliam Museum, £46

Exhibition History

London, 1878, no.2 as by Joseph Mallord William Turner; Cambridge, 1959, no catalogue; Cambridge, 1975a, pp.27–28 as by Joseph Mallord William Turner, c.1794; Cincinatti, 1986, no.6 as by Joseph Mallord William Turner


Ruskin, 1878, pp.14–15 as by Joseph Mallord William Turner; Ruskin, Works, vol.13, p.414; Ruskin, Works, vol.21, p.280; Vallance, 1932, pp.33–38; Girtin and Loshak, 1954, p.144 as a 'copy' by Joseph Mallord William Turner; Wilton, 1979, p.312, no.112 as 'probably' by Joseph Mallord William Turner, c.1795–96; Whittingham, 2007, pp.135–36 as by Joseph Mallord William Turner; Fitzwilliam Museum Online as by Joseph Mallord William Turner (Accessed 13/09/2022)

About this Work

The first known owner of this view of Tonbridge Castle and the bridge over the river Medway in Kent was John Ruskin (1819–1900), an influential and prominent Victorian critic and writer on Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851). He wrote extensively on the work, describing it as an ‘example of the constant method of Turner’s study in early youth’, and he praised the artist’s touch in capturing the effect of the ‘reflected light under the bridge’ (Ruskin, 1878, pp.14–15). No doubt influenced by Ruskin’s reputation as an authority on Turner, many writers have continued to ascribe the watercolour to the artist. Although Malcolm Cormack, the cataloguer of the Turner collection in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, was careful to record dissenting voices, he too concluded that the work was by Girtin’s contemporary and dated it to around 1794, the outcome of one of Turner’s early trips to Kent (Cormack, 1975, pp.27–28). However, a number of writers, including Aymer Vallance, have suggested that the watercolour is actually by Girtin (Vallance, 1932, pp.33–38), though, surprisingly, Thomas Girtin (1874–1960) and David Loshak in their catalogue of the artist’s work concluded that it is a ‘copy’ by Turner of a pencil drawing that Girtin carefully signed and inscribed (TG0192) (Girtin and Loshak, 1954, p.144). The one option that has not been considered sufficiently, however, is that the work was produced at the home of Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833) and that it is an example of a collaboration between Girtin and Turner, based not on one of their own on-the-spot sketches but on an outline by another artist.

George Murray (active 1794–1822), after Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), etching and engraving, 'Tunbridge' for <i>The Pocket Magazine</i>, 1 September 1795, 8.1 × 12.8 cm, 3 ³⁄₁₆ × 5 in. British Museum, London (1893,0612.139).

Part of the challenge of understanding the drawing’s character lies in the existence of no fewer than three possible sources. The first option is that the image is based on a lost on-the-spot drawing by Turner, the existence of which can be inferred from an engraved view of the castle and bridge published in 1795 (see figure 1). There are, however, numerous differences between the print and watercolour and, if a Turner drawing was the source, it would have required the artist to have made another view and add a belt of trees to the right to cover the building. The second option rests on the fact that Paul Sandby (c.1730–1809) made a number of similar views of the same river scene, one of which would no doubt have been available to the artists at Monro’s house in the form of an engraving dated 1796 (see TG0192 figure 1). This was also taken from a slightly different angle and again lacks the profusion of foliage to the right. The third option comes from Girtin and Loshak, who took an altogether different line, suggesting that the watercolour was a ‘copy’ of Girtin’s pencil drawing, which in turn was ‘copied from a pencil drawing of the same size by Dayes in the Fitzwilliam Museum’ (Girtin and Loshak, 1954, p.144). No such drawing by Girtin’s master, Edward Dayes (1763–1804), has been located in the museum; however, given that there is evidence it was once in the Girtin collection, having then been sold to Alexander Finberg, one must accept Girtin and Loshak as credible witnesses. Therefore, with some reservations, I am inclined to believe that both the signed pencil drawing and the watercolour of Tonbridge are after the same lost drawing by Dayes.

It does not necessarily follow from this that the pencil outline on which the simple palette of blues and greys has been added is by Girtin, as was generally the case with the Monro School works produced at the patron’s house between 1794 and 1797. The washes of colour are more carefully worked than in many of the copies, particularly the versions of the sketches of scenery in Kent by John Henderson (1764–1843), which make up a substantial number of the British views from Monro’s collection. However, to my eye, there is sufficient characteristic pencil work still visible, particularly on the buildings on the bank, to suggest Girtin’s involvement as the draughtsman or copyist. Overlaying images of the watercolour and Girtin’s signed drawing shows that the pencil work in the former has been simplified for Turner to work around. The same exercise also illustrates how the draughtsman subtly altered the composition of the pencil drawing so that, although it follows the forms exactly, the lateral extent of the composition is compressed to create a more concentrated and satisfactory result. If the watercolour was either copied from the pencil drawing or executed as part of its production process, one would expect the proportions to be the same. This does not add up to proof, but the logic of the comparison suggests Girtin’s involvement in the production of two different and distinct commodities depicting the same picturesque subject: a signed presentation drawing showcasing his drawing skills, and a collaborative copy in which Turner’s addition of washes of grey and blue predominates.

Image Overlay

1795 - 1796

Tonbridge Bridge and Castle


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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