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

Two Trees Overlooking a Meandering River

1794 - 1797

Primary Image: TG0993: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851) after (?) Edward Dayes (1763–1804), Two Trees Overlooking a Meandering River, 1794–97, graphite and watercolour on wove paper, 13.8 × 19.7 cm, 5 ⅜ × 7 ¾ in. Private Collection.

Photo courtesy of Sotheby's

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) after (?) Edward Dayes (1763-1804)
  • Two Trees Overlooking a Meandering River
1794 - 1797
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on wove paper
13.8 × 19.7 cm, 5 ⅜ × 7 ¾ in
Object Type
Collaborations; Monro School Copy
Subject Terms
River Scenery; Unidentified Landscape; Trees and Woods

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in July 2021


Cyril and Shirley Fry; their posthumous sale, Sotheby's, 8 July 2021, lot 185

About this Work

This unidentified view, possibly in the Lake District, was in all likelihood made 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. Their task, as they recalled to the diarist Joseph Farington (1747–1821), was 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, ‘They went at 6 and staid till Ten’ with Turner receiving ‘3s. 6d each night’ whilst ‘Girtin did not say what He had’ (Farington, Diary, 12 November 1798).1 The outcome of their joint labours was substantial, amounting to several hundred drawings of which at least twenty are Lake District scenes after compositions by Dayes, including The River Leven, Cumbria, Viewed from Penny Bridge (TG0773), which is perhaps the closest to this unidentified view and which may even show the same river. The Girtin–Turner collaboration also has much in common with Dayes’ The Oak Tree (see figure 1), which features the same prominent arboreal motif next to a meandering river with low hills in the distance.

The Oak Tree

Girtin made a number of copies of his master’s views of Lake District scenery during his apprenticeship, including Lake Windermere and Belle Isle (TG0078). Since he was never actually to travel to one of the country’s most popular picturesque regions, for artists as well as their patrons and customers, he based his views on the works of others throughout his career. As with the numerous copies that Girtin and Turner created from compositions by Cozens, it was the slight sketches and outlines that Dayes made on his travels that were used as the sources for their more finished watercolours, rather than studio works such as The Oak Tree. Monro’s posthumous sale in 1833 contained several hundred of Dayes’ sketches, including seven ‘Views on the lakes, blue and Indian ink’, as well as views of ‘Keswick, Glanton, Patterdale’, all presumably made on his only documented visit to the Lake District in 1789, and there is no evidence that Monro owned any of the older artist’s more substantial studio works (Exhibitions: Christie’s, 2 July 1833, lots 42 and 45). Typically, the precise Dayes source of this view has not been traced, though this does not mean we should look elsewhere for its model. Few of Dayes’ sketches have survived or been identified and, arguably, the fact that no source can be found suggests that it was a thoroughly unprepossessing drawing that required considerable transformational skills from the young artists employed by Monro.

Monro’s posthumous sale contained more than forty Lake District views, all of which were attributed solely to Turner. Unlike Girtin, Turner did visit the region, albeit briefly, in 1797. However, whilst some of the items in the sale may have resulted from this trip, the majority were noted as being in ‘blue and Indian ink’ and therefore employed the palette associated with the Monro School works. The attribution of the Lake District views to Turner alone has been challenged in recent years, following the publication of Andrew Wilton’s pioneering article (Wilton, 1984a, pp.8–23), and Girtin’s contribution to this work was acknowledged when it appeared on the art market in 2021. Identifying the division of labour within Monro School drawings is considerably helped, as here, when the colour washes leave some of the pencil work untouched in order to create highlights, so that Girtin’s distinctive hand is clearly identifiable across the drawing. Indeed, the watercolour is notable for the interplay of the pencil work and the subtle palette of blues and greys, which create a range of light effects whilst also delineating a complex spatial relationship within the landscape.


1794 - 1797

The River Leven, Cumbria, Viewed from Penny Bridge


1791 - 1792

Lake Windermere and Belle Isle


by Greg Smith


  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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