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

Unterseen, from the Lake of Thun

1794 - 1797

Primary Image: TG0466: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851) after John Robert Cozens (1752–97), Unterseen, from the Lake of Thun, 1794–97, graphite and watercolour on wove paper, 24.2 × 37.7 cm, 9 ½ × 14 ⅞ in. Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields (72.174).

Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields (Public Domain)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) after John Robert Cozens (1752-1797)
  • Unterseen, from the Lake of Thun
1794 - 1797
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on wove paper
24.2 × 37.7 cm, 9 ½ × 14 ⅞ in

‘Lake of Thun near Unterseen’ on the back lower left, by Thomas Girtin; '63' on the back upper right

Object Type
Collaborations; Monro School Copy
Subject Terms
Hills and Mountains; Lake Scenery; Swiss View

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Gallery Website


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 'Hixon', £21 11s 6d; ... Herbert Horne (1864–1916) (Armstrong, 1902); bought from him by Sir Edward Marsh (1872–1953), May 1904 (lent to London, 1916); bought from him by Thos. Agnew & Sons (stock no.9693), 3 May 1920; bought by Asa Lingard (1869–1956), 4 May 1920 (lent to London, 1922); his sale, Sotheby's, 8 March 1944, lot 42 as 'Lake of Thun near Unterseen' by Joseph Mallord William Turner; bought by Thos. Agnew & Sons, £140; Alan G. Agnew; Sotheby’s, 9 May 1956, lot 27 as by Joseph Mallord William Turner; bought by Thos. Agnew & Sons, £130; bought by Kurt F. Pantzer (1892-1979), 20 March 1957; presented to the Museum, 1972

Exhibition History

London, 1916, no.75 as by Joseph Mallord William Turner; London, 1922, no.67 as ’Copy by J. M. W. Turner of J. R. Cozens’; Agnew’s, 1945, no.42, £150; Agnew’s, 1947, no.51 as ’On the Aar’, £160; Agnew’s, 1950, no.27; Agnew's, 1951, no.56, £175 as 'On the Aare', Agnew’s, 1952, no.77; Agnew’s, 1953b, no.77; Notre Dame, 1963, no.10


Armstrong, 1902, p.238 as by Joseph Mallord William Turner; Bell and Girtin, 1935, p.30; Krause, 1997, pp.82–84 as by Joseph Mallord William Turner and Thomas Girtin; IMA Collection Online as 'On the Aar between Unterseen and Lake of Brienz' by Joseph Mallord William Turner and Thomas Girtin

About this Work

This view of Unterseen on the Lake of Thun, with its distinctive church tower prominent, 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

On the Aare, between Unterseen and the Lake of Brientz

This watercolour of Unterseen, viewed from the lake with the Niesen in the distance, was copied from a composition by John Robert Cozens (1752–97) (see figure 1; Bell and Girtin, 1935, no.17), 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. This suggestion is supported by the fact that Girtin inscribed the watercolour with its correct subject – ‘Lake of Thun near Unterseen’ – whereas Cozens himself mistakenly identified his watercolour as ‘Upon the Aare between Unterseen and the Lake of Brientz’, under which erroneous title the Monro School drawing has long been known.

Establishing the division of labour within a Monro School drawing is considerably helped, as here, when the colour washes leave much of the pencil work showing clearly. Although the nature of the subject did not require much detail, Girtin’s hand is apparent under Turner’s economical use of a simple palette of greys and blues. Girtin’s work is particularly clear in the seated figure to the right, which is left uncoloured. The figure occupies the same position as the seated man in the Cozens watercolour but assumes a different pose.

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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