This drawing is the most impressive surviving work dating from Alexander Cozens’s visit to Italy in 1746. By the time Cozens visited Rome, Continental travel was deemed essential for an ambitious painter. In his only surviving Roman sketchbook Cozens wrote ambitiously:
‘I will studdy the beauty of Form & injoy elegant Ideas set the Image of a charming face fore my mind feed on its lovely Innocence & by it flatter my longing Soul with Visions of happyness tho' but in Picture for I will immure myself in solitude & paint the Graces act Truth and contemplate virtue’
Whilst in Rome, he spent some time working with Claude Vernet, who although only three years Cozens’s senior, had already been in Rome some twelve years and had established himself as the most successful landscape painter in the city. Vernet’s style of landscape drawing had been influenced by the work of Claude and he had developed a drawing style based on the earlier artist’s method of sketching freely in monochrome, using a mixture of loose washes and a free, bold line. Although already a highly competent draughtsman, it was this manner of drawing which influenced Cozens and encouraged him to experiment still further with techniques and materials. The combination of chalk, pen and wash used in the present work attests to the artist’s innovative experimentation during this period.
A small study related to this composition is in the book of tracings by John Robert Cozens which formerly belonged to Sir George Beaumont (Yale Center for British Art, New Haven). It is interesting to note that J.M.W. Turner, copied the present drawing, when he was a student at Dr Thomas Monro’s informal ‘Academy’ for young artists. That watercolour, dating from c. 1796, was formerly in the collection of William Henry Hunt (a fellow student at Monro’s), and was latterly in the Walter Hetherington collection by which time it was incorrectly identified as being of Monaco. Monro, a considerable collector of drawings probably had access to Alexander Cozens’s original through his role as John Robert Cozens’s doctor at Bethlem Hospital where the artist was under his care.