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Joseph Mallord William Turner, 1775–1851
after John Robert Cozens, 1752–1797
Villa d'Este
ca. 1796
Materials & Techniques:
Watercolor, graphite, pen and back ink, blue wash and gray wash on moderately thick, slightly textured, cream wove paper
Sheet: 16 3/4 x 21 3/4 inches (42.5 x 55.2 cm)
Credit Line:
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Copyright Status:
Public Domain
Accession Number:
Drawings & Watercolors
Prints and Drawings
Subject Terms:
buildings | cattle | cows | landscape | trees | villa | walls
Associated Places:
Europe | Italy | Lazio | Roma | Tivoli | Villa d'Este
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IIIF Manifest:

Around 1795 Turner began working alongside Thomas Girtin at Dr. Thomas Monro’s “Academy.” Monro was a specialist in psychiatric cases and was acting as physician to John Robert Cozens. He was also an amateur artist who collected work in watercolor by the leading exponents of the time, especially Cozens. He paid Turner and Girtin to make copies of Cozens’s drawings, Girtin sketching the outlines and Turner adding the color. This drawing was made after a Cozens design and could perhaps be a collaboration between the two young artists.

Gallery label for Great British Watercolors from the Paul Mellon Collection at the Yale Center for British Art (Yale Center for British Art, 2008-06-09 - 2008-08-17)
A crucial period in Turner's development began around 1795, when he started working alongside Thomas Girtin at Monro's academy. Monro's motives in having these gifted young artists copy watercolors and drawings are not entirely clear. Was he getting them to copy drawings he wanted dearly for his own collection but could only have on loan? Or did he sell their work to collectors for profit? Whatever his intentions, Monro paid emerging artists good moneyto work at watercolor; Turner claimed he could make anything up to 3s 6d a night. By frequenting Monro's, he and Girtin could earn a living while learning the fundamentals of watercolor painting as well as having access to his outstanding collection of drawings. According to Joseph Farington, Turner and Girtin "were chiefly employed in copying the outlines or unfinished drawings of Cozens &c &c of which copies they made finished drawings." Turner's later remark that he knew of "no genius but the genius of hard work" is amply borne out by the fact that more than two hundred of these drawings survive, Villa d'Este being one of the larger examples. Farington noted that Girtin and Turner labored over them in the evenings, arriving at Monro's at "6 and staid [sic] till Ten. Girtin drew in outlines and Turner washed in the effects." Since John Robert Cozens has been one of Monro's psychiatric patients for over a year by the time Turner entered the Monro circle, he had ready access either to the original sketchbooks that Cozens made touring Italy or high-quality tracings from those sketches."

The close collaboration between the pair makes it almost impossible to discern with any decree of certainty whether this is entirely the work of Turner or a collaboration with Girtin. According to John Varley (cat. nos. 53-55), who was also at Monro's academy and an early disciple of Girtin, the latter began to resent the process of making these drawings. He claimed it was "not giving him the same chance of learning to paint." If Girtin's hand was involed in Villa d'Este, it is likely to have been in drawing the basic outlines, with Turner supplying the color washes. The graphite lines are close to Girtin's manner with their loops, dashes, and dots, while Turner's color is lifted direct from Cozens's palette with its gray, blue, and green hues of subdued tone, which lighten as the landscape recedes into the distance. Turner was already exploring ways of handling a brush. Like Rooker or Cozens, Turner's brushwork resists smoothness in favor of variety, at times ranging freely over the paper in broad lines, at others, stabbing at the surface in staccato dabs and slashes. already his color seems impatient with the confines of the preliminary drawing, especially in the fussy treatment of grasses in the foreground, which he obliterates with layer upon layer of wet color washed from a loaded brush. This was exactly the time that Turner had begun to paint in oils, showing his first oil painting with the Royal Academy in 1796, and it is conceivable that he was starting to explore how the two mediums informed each other. He would later claim that he learned more from Cozens's lost oil painting of Hannibal Showing to His Army the Fertile Plains of Italy (1776) than from any other painting he knew. Turner understood that if his artistic ambitions were to be realized, he would have to be elected to the Royal Academy, and that meant gaining credibility as an oil painter. Consequently, he increasingly sidelined his watercolors in the public exhibitions. Although he exhibited watercolors annually between 1790 and 1804, they were increasingly balanced by oil paintings as the year passed, until 1806, after which he rarely showed a watercolor in public again, despite continuing to produce them in prolific quantities. The gambit paid off. It is a measure of Turner's growing importance that he was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy in 1799 and then a full Royal Academician in 1802; Girtin had not polled a single vote when he attempted election as an Associate the year before.

Matthew Hargraves

Hargraves, Matthew, and Scott Wilcox. Great British Watercolors: from the Paul Mellon collection. New Haven: Yale Center for British Art, 2007, pp. 103-105, no. 44

Great British Watercolors from the Paul Mellon Collection at the Yale Center for British Art (Yale Center for British Art, 2008-06-09 - 2008-08-17) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition] [Exhibition Description]

Great British Watercolors from the Paul Mellon Collection at the Yale Center for British Art (The State Hermitage Museum, 2007-10-23 - 2008-01-13) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition] [Exhibition Description]

Great British Watercolors from the Paul Mellon Collection at the Yale Center for British Art (Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, 2007-07-11 - 2007-09-30) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition] [Exhibition Description]

Thomas Girtin (Yale Center for British Art, 1986-01-21 - 1986-03-30) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Susan Morris, Thomas Girtin, 1775-1802, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, 1986, p. 50, no. 121, NJ18 .G44 M67 (LC) (YCBA) [YCBA]

Yale Center for British Art, Great British watercolors : from the Paul Mellon Collection, Yale University Press, New Haven, 2007, pp. 103-105, no. 44, ND1928 .Y35 2007 (LC)+ Oversize (YCBA) [YCBA]

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