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

Vallombrosa Abbey

1797 - 1798

Primary Image: TG0669: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802) and (?) Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), after (?) John Robert Cozens (1752–97), Vallombrosa Abbey, 1797–98, graphite and watercolour on laid paper (watermark: ornamented Fleur-de-Lys / LVG; countermark: I VILLEDARY), 47 × 61 cm, 18 ½ × 24 in. Tate, Turner Bequest CCCLXXV, 35 (D36556).

Photo courtesy of Tate (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) and (?) Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) after (?) John Robert Cozens (1752-1797)
  • Vallombrosa Abbey
1797 - 1798
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on laid paper (watermark: ornamented Fleur-de-Lys / LVG; countermark: I VILLEDARY)
47 × 61 cm, 18 ½ × 24 in

‘Convent of Valombrosa’ on the back, by Thomas Girtin

Object Type
Collaborations; Monro School Copy
Subject Terms
Italian View: Tuscany

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001, 2002 and January 2018


Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833); his posthumous sale, Christie's, 26–28 June and 1–2 July 1833 (day and lot number not known); bought by Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851); accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest, 1856

Exhibition History

National Gallery, London, no catalogue; London, 2002, no.100 as by Thomas Girtin


Finberg, 1909, vol.2, p.1236 as '"Convent of Valambrosa"' as by Thomas Girtin; MacColl, 1920, p.136; Wilton, 1984a, pp.14–15 as '"Monro School" (after J.R. Cozens?)'; Bower, 2002, pp.140–41; Turner Online as 'The Convent of Vallombrosa' by Joseph Mallord William Turner and Thomas Girtin (Accessed 08/09/2022)

About this Work

This view of the great Benedictine abbey of Vallombrosa, located thirty kilometres south-east of Florence, was bought by Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851) at the posthumous sale of Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833). It is one of several hundred drawings that resulted from the unique collaboration between Girtin and Turner at Monro’s home at the Adelphi in London. 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

As with many of the Monro School drawings of Italian scenes, it has not been possible to trace the source for this view of the domestic range of the abbey, set amongst the wooded hills of the Apennines. But, as generally seems to have been the case, it is likely to have been a composition by John Robert Cozens (1752–97). He visited Vallombrosa during his return journey to England in 1783, and one of the sketchbooks that were owned by his patron William Beckford (1760–1844), contains six views of the abbey’s surrounds. These were produced in haste on his journey, and it may be that Cozens also viewed the abbey on his earlier Italian sojourn (between 1776 and 1779). The sketches Cozens made on the earlier trip tended to be larger in scale, and it was from one of these, rather than a lost watercolour, that this sheet was presumably created. The auction of ‘Mr COZENS’ held in July 1794 contained twenty-seven ‘books of sketches’ and many hundreds of drawings made on his travels, and, as Kim Sloan has argued, given that Monro’s posthumous sale included only a few sketches by Cozens, the patron must have borrowed much of the material from which Girtin and Turner worked, though in this case it has either been lost or remains unrecognised (Sloan and Joyner, 1993, pp.81–82).2 Incidentally, it is likely that the Monro School artists produced another, different view of the abbey that included the more picturesque parts of the church. A later copy of the work, probably made by the patron’s son, Alexander Monro (1802–44), is pasted into an album that records the appearance of twenty-six Monro School views, many of which have yet to appear in the public domain (sold by Lacy Scott & Knight, 11 March 2017, lot 1464).

Although it seems that Cozens himself did not produce a watercolour view of Vallombrosa, the site was popular with British tourists and artists in the eighteenth century. The abbey is mentioned in the epic poem Paradise Lost and it was widely assumed that its author, John Milton (1608–74), had stayed there, which encouraged visits from Beckford, amongst others.

Monro’s posthumous sale, in 1833, contained numerous Italian scenes attributed to Turner, many of which were acquired by the artist himself, as here. The cataloguer of the Turner Bequest, Alexander Finberg, thought that Girtin alone was responsible for watercolours such as this, whilst more recently Andrew Wilton has established the joint authorship of the majority of the Monro School works bought by Turner (Finberg, 1909, vol.2, p.1236; Wilton, 1984a, pp.8–23). However, it must be remembered that the Monro sale included a substantial number of Italian scenes which were attributed to Girtin alone, and this work was shown as such in the 2002 bicentenary exhibition. The palette, the broad foreground, and the manner in which the artist draws in details with the tip of the brush are typical of Girtin’s work around 1797–98, and the new attribution seems to have generally been accepted. Perhaps what clinches the argument is the use of a coarse laid paper, unique amongst the Monro School drawings, but entirely typical of the supports chosen by Girtin at this date to enhance his broader style. The paper historian, Peter Bower, has identified it as a white laid writing paper produced by a French company, Villedary, but actually manufactured at Hattem in the Netherlands (Bower, 2002, pp.140–41).

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).
  2. 2 A full record of the sale is available in the Documents section of the Archive (1794 – Item 1)

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