Samuel William Reynolds (1773–1835) is best known today as a mezzotinter and occasional portrait and landscape painter who latterly worked and exhibited in France. Working from Girtin’s watercolours, Reynolds produced sixteen mezzotints that at their best, as with York Minster from the South East (see print after TG1656), convey much of the drama of the originals, with the rich texture of the prints replicating the artist’s broad washes of muted colours. Three of the prints record the appearance of drawings that have been lost and are therefore of considerable documentary value. Because Reynolds had ready access to a large body of Girtin’s works, he is also the prime candidate for the authorship of a group of convincing full-scale copies – including an oil painting, A Distant View of Guisborough Priory (TG1701) – that have at various times been erroneously attributed to Girtin himself. It is possible that copies such as A Rainbow over the River Exe (see TG1730 figure 1) were produced as part of the engraving process, but engravers’ copies are not normally larger than the print and do not, as in this case, employ the same support and palette as the artist; there is a strong suspicion that Reynolds made his copies with the intention to deceive, as may well have been the case with the second version of Girtin’s iconic work Chelsea Reach, Looking towards Battersea, known as The White House at Chelsea (TG1741).
Reynolds was in a prime position to do this because from sometime in 1800 he began to act as Girtin’s representative, working in a uncertain role somewhere between agent and dealer. The earliest writers on Girtin noted that the artist had preferred to dispose of his work through a dealer, rather than rely solely on the fickle support of patrons, and Thomas Girtin (1874–1960) and David Loshak identified ‘a certain Jack Harris’ as his chosen intermediary (Girtin and Loshak, 1954, p.25). However, a re-examination of documents at the Bedfordshire Archives has identified Reynolds as the holder of a considerable stock, including ‘Drawings by Girtin 19 Large size’ at £7 7s each and ‘10 smaller’ at £4 4s each calculated as a total of £178 ‘at an average price’. A note from Reynolds to an intermediary of his financial backer during one of his many financial crises, Samuel Whitbread (1764–1815), which states that because ‘Mr. G. leaves England in a fortnight they will then I should think become much more Valuable’, confirms the idea that he was acting in the role of a dealer rather than a disinterested collector (Reynolds, Letter, 1801). The details are contained in a letter from Reynolds to Sawrey Gilpin (1733–1807). The letter is transcribed in the Documents section of the Archive (1801 – Item 4). Another note records that at least some of the larger drawings sold in December 1801 fetched £10 and £11 each (Reynolds, Letter, 1803). The letter detailing the sales of Girtin’s works by Reynolds is also transcribed in full in the Documents section of the Archive (1803 – Item 3). Reynolds’ posthumous sale also contained over thirty items, including a sketchbook with a further ‘sixty sketches in pencil views in England’, but none fetched significant prices and it must be assumed that he was successful in selling the substantial group of watercolours entrusted to him by the artist (Exhibitions: Christie’s, 18 April 1836). From inscriptions on the drawings, records of sales and the existence of Reynolds’ own mezzotints, we can be reasonably sure that the dealer’s stock included many of the artist’s most important watercolours, including The Village of Jedburgh (TG1725) and Chelsea Reach, Looking towards Battersea (The White House, Chelsea) (TG1740).
1801 - 1803
A Distant View of Guisborough Priory
A Rainbow over the River Exe
1800 - 1805
Chelsea Reach, Looking towards Battersea
The Village of Jedburgh
Chelsea Reach, Looking towards Battersea (The White House, Chelsea)