Monro School Copies: Drawings Made with Joseph Mallord William Turner from the Sketches of John Robert Cozens’ First Trip to the Continent, 1776–79
Taking the lead from an early account of Girtin’s patron the collector Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833), which described his home at the Adelphi in London as ‘like an Academy in an evening’, commentators have generally characterised the patron as a disinterested supporter of young artists who had nowhere else to study the rudiments of their craft. In fact, Monro sent many of the works made at his house to auction, and, as the early account subsequently makes clear, the ‘young men’ at this ‘Academy’ were ‘employed’ by the patron.1 Therefore, Girtin and his collaborator at Monro’s house, Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), were jointly in paid employment to make copies from the ‘outlines or unfinished drawings of Cozens’ (i.e. John Robert Cozens (1752–97)) and other artists to create works such as A Narrow Gorge on the River Linth, near the Pantenbrücke (figure 1). Girtin began the process by copying the outlines and Turner ‘washed in the effects’ to varying degrees of finish. The source material, we know, was lent by friends and fellow collectors, and there is no question of the two young artists learning from the watercolours of their most talented predecessor, as it was simply their task to realise more finished versions of the often slight outlines that had been dispersed at Cozens’ studio sale in July 1794. The crucial point here is that Monro probably did not yet own any of Cozens’ watercolours – which, at this point in their careers, Girtin and Turner could indeed have studied with profit – and perhaps not surprisingly the outcome of their labours was disappointing in comparison with the highly poetic images that the earlier artist created himself from his sketches. And for this, as we know from a later source, Turner at least was well remunerated, receiving ‘3s. 6d each night’, though ‘Girtin did not say what He had’.2 This may have been rather less, as his role in the production of the more than four hundred drawings that the two artists worked on together was not so demanding, in some cases limited to simply tracing Cozens’ ‘outlines’. This was so much the case that Girtin is said to have complained that his work at Monro’s did not give ‘him the same chance of learning to paint’.3
The clear and detailed description that the two artists provided of their activities at Monro’s home does not always help with the attribution of the watercolours, however, since Girtin’s pencil work is often hidden under Turner’s washes of colour, and the issue has been further complicated by the fact that other young artists likewise made copies of the same drawings. Indeed, Thomas Girtin (1874–1960) and David Loshak, the first cataloguers of Girtin’s work, concluded that the ‘problem’ of the artists’ collaborations was ‘practically insoluble’, and they concentrated on the smaller number of Monro School drawings, as they are generally termed, which they thought were ‘wholly the work of Girtin’. 4 In general, I take a rather more relaxed approach to the question of attribution, accepting that a degree of uncertainty is inevitable, if not positively healthy. Whatever problems there are regarding the attribution of individual items, the fact that two great artists spent so much of their formative years working side by side on the same drawings is more than enough reason to catalogue as comprehensive a collection of the Monro School copies as is feasible. In this catalogue, these works are organised according to the likely route undertaken by Cozens on his two continental tours (1776–79 and 1782–83) because, although there is no evidence that Monro ever did this, the works’ prime function was presumably as a surrogate tour for a collector who, like the artists he employed, could not travel to Capri, or indeed to anywhere on the Continent at a time of war and blockade (figure 2). The alternative approach of organising the four hundred or so drawings by date is, in any case, not feasible. Apart from watermarks on a handful of the drawings, there is no clear stylistic evidence with which to date the majority, and it has not been possible to allocate them with any degree of confidence to a particular year amongst the three winters that the artists are known to have worked for Monro (presumably concluding in 1796–97). Indeed, regardless of the stylistic changes that marked the two artists’ watercolours and drawings when they worked individually, their collaborations at Monro’s stand outside their general development. The division of the copies after Cozens’ work into two groups is broadly related to their size, as the versions of the Swiss and Italian scenes from the earlier tour are generally larger, and this reflects a change in the earlier artist’s practice, as the sketches from the later trip, which have survived in much greater numbers, are worked on a smaller scale. However, whilst drawings such as The Vatican: The Wall of the Giardino della Pigna and the Belvedere (figure 3) are clearly based on known compositions by Cozens – even if, unlike this example, the actual outline has not survived – the source of numerous Swiss and Italian scenes is a matter of conjecture, and proof of the origin of many of the drawings in this part of the catalogue is lacking.
The 240 or so entries in the section Monro School Copies: Drawings Made with Joseph Mallord William Turner from the Sketches of John Robert Cozens’ First Trip to the Continent, 1776–79 can be accessed here.
Monro School Copies: Italian Views after Drawings by John Robert Cozens Made on the Second Italian Trip, 1782–83
That we know at least something about the activities of Girtin and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851) at the home of Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833) comes down to the curiosity of the diarist Joseph Farington (1747–1821). He recorded both the division of labour involved, noting that ‘Girtin drew in outlines and Turner washed in the effects’, and the source of their subjects in ‘the outlines or unfinished drawings’ of John Robert Cozens (1752–97).5 That this was an evening activity, with the artists staying from six to ten, is confirmed by a sketch of Turner at work (figure 5) that may even have been made by Monro himself. The patron provided the artists with all of the materials they needed, as well as sloping desks and a candle. Turner is presumably in the process of colouring one of Girtin’s outlines, with a pot of water to hand. The image of Girtin at Monro’s home (figure 4) is less revealing of his practice, though it too depended on the use of candlelight. It seems likely that Girtin traced many of Cozens’ outlines. To do this he probably placed a light underneath under his source and, using a sheet of glass as a support, traced the lines onto a sheet of paper of the same dimensions as the original. The use of artificial light for sessions that appear to have been confined to the winter months has a further significance, as Eric Shanes has pointed out. For the overwhelming majority of the coloured drawings are, if not in monochrome, then tinted in just half a dozen ‘tones of two or three colours’, and this was presumably dictated by the circumstances of their production.6
Aside from the not inconsiderable advantage of a steady income – we know that Turner latterly received 3s 6d an evening – the process of copying Cozens’ outlines proved highly beneficial to Girtin, even if Monro’s collection did not contain examples, at this date, of the older artist’s poetic watercolours. Prime amongst these benefits was the fact that the outlines provided an encyclopaedic repertoire of compositions that were to be of use throughout Girtin’s career, as the example of Lindisfarne Castle (figure 6) shows. It thus employs the same format as An Unidentified Fort on a Cliff by the Sea (figure 7). The Monro School drawings are impossible to date, displaying, as they do, no discernible stylistic progress across the three years of their production. In this case it is possible that the dramatic view of the castle on the Northumberland coast was produced at about the same time as its model, though it displays a very different aesthetic, far removed from the frankly old-fashioned tinted drawing manner employed by Turner to complete the collaborative process. Cozens employed a series of innovative compositions, such as the elongated format of Salerno: An Ancient Cypress in the Garden of the Franciscan Convent (figure 8), as well as a series of panoramic views of coastal and urban scenes (figure 9), all of which influenced Girtin’s work when he made his first sketching tours, to the North East in 1796 and the West Country in 1797.
Rather more difficult to quantify, but arguably just as significant for the pattern of Girtin’s career, was the sociable, confederate nature of the work that centred on Monro’s collection. The Sketching Society, a group of amateur and professional artists of which Girtin was a founder member, no doubt had its origins in the convivial evening meetings at Monro’s, which were said to have culminated in a supper of oysters.7 Girtin was also happy to collaborate with artists other than Turner, working, for instance, with the animal painter Samuel Howitt (1756–1822) (TG1374), and his great London panorama, the Eidometropolis, actually saw him delegating much, if not all, of the painting of the monumental canvas. But arguably the most significant aspect of the Monro School is that it extended Girtin’s habit of working from the sketches of other artists beyond his initial reliance on them as a young artist unable to travel – so much so that it set the pattern for the whole of his career. Indeed, amongst the very last watercolours he produced are a series of copies of humble topographical prints that, in some cases, he might have more easily worked from his own on-the-spot drawings, as in the case of a Paris view, The Ruins of the Roman Baths, Hôtel de Cluny (TG1896).
The 70 or so entries in the section Monro School Copies: Italian Views after Drawings by John Robert Cozens Made on the Second Italian Trip, 1782–83 can be accessed here.
1795 - 1796
A Herd of Deer in Richmond Park
Paris: The Ruins of the Roman Baths, Hôtel de Cluny
Monro School Copies: British Views, Including Works after the Outlines of John Henderson
Whilst the majority of the Monro School drawings produced by Girtin and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851) in collaboration are based on outline sketches and tracings made by John Robert Cozens (1752–97) on his two continental tours, there is also a significant group of British subjects made after other artists. Some of these, including views in the Lake District and Wales, appear to have been copied from sketches owned by Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833) himself, and many of these were by Girtin’s teacher, Edward Dayes (1763–1804). Once again, Monro commissioned more finished copies from the often very slight drawings he had access to in order to enhance his collection for a relatively small cost. The majority of the British subjects, however, are south coast marine views, depicting, in particular, shipping scenes that were sketched in the picturesque harbour at Dover (figure 10) by Monro’s neighbour at the Adelphi, John Henderson (1764–1843). The amateur visited the port in the autumn of 1794, and the ‘outlines of Shipping & Boats’ he made there, described by the diarist Joseph Farington (1747–1821) as ‘Very ingenious & careful’, provided the basis for a substantial number of copies commissioned by Monro.8 In addition to the shipping scenes, there are also a number of town views and, in one case at least, Girtin alone worked on a copy of a sketch by Henderson, producing The Harbour at Weymouth (figure 11). Girtin almost certainly never visited Dover, and the bulk of the Monro School British drawings he is associated with depict locations he was not able to sketch on the spot, though in the case of Weymouth he travelled to the newly fashionable coastal resort in 1797 and added it to his repertoire of subjects.
The more than a hundred entries in the section Monro School Copies: British Views, Including Works after the Outlines of John Henderson can be accessed here.
Copies after Professional Artists: British and Continental Masters
In parallel with the work produced for his neighbour, Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833), John Henderson (1764–1843) commissioned a series of copies from Girtin, giving the young artist the opportunity to realise watercolours from a range of prints in his possession. These included a series of engravings after antiquarian subjects by the finest topographical watercolourist of the previous generation, Thomas Hearne (1744–1817) (figure 12), as well as urban views by the architectural draughtsman Thomas Malton the Younger (1748–1804). Better known are the watercolours he created from engravings made after two earlier foreign masters, Charles-Louis Clérisseau (1721–1820) and Giovanni Antonio Canal (Canaletto) (1697–1768), as well as the etchings of the great Italian printmaker Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720–78). Girtin’s obituarist recalled how Canaletto was ‘the first master that struck [Girtin’s] attention forcibly’, but, though his drawing style around 1795 clearly shows the influence of the earlier artist’s example, the watercolours painted for Henderson date from later, around 1797.9 They were therefore produced with the requirements of his patron to the fore and bear no relation to Girtin’s assimilation of aspects of Canaletto’s style. Much the same can be said about the copies of Piranesi’s prints, such as The Temple of Augustus at Pula in Istria (figure 13). Girtin’s study of Piranesi’s etchings earlier in his career was a key element behind the development of a greater dramatic richness in architectural subjects, such as in The West Front of Peterborough Cathedral (TG1020), but these later copies constitute a different and quite distinct commodity.
The 37 entries in the section Copies after Professional Artists: British and Continental Masters can be accessed here.
The West Front of Peterborough Cathedral