Joseph Farington (1747–1821) was a landscape artist who, after studying as a pupil with Richard Wilson (1713/14–82), the outstanding practitioner in the Grand Manner, settled into a comfortable career painting less ambitious topographical scenes in oils and watercolours (see TG1357 figure 1), many for illustrated publications (see TG1425a figure 1). Following his election as a full member of the Royal Academy in 1785, Farington took an increasing part in the affairs of that body. A master of committees with a deep knowledge of the history of the Academy and its protocols, he was in a perfect position to act as its chronicler when in 1793 he began the compendious diary that engaged his attention until his death in 1821. Much more than his art, the diary has ensured his fame as the primary source of information on the London art world during Girtin’s lifetime.
We first come across Girtin’s name in the pages of the diary in 1795, when Farington noted the unsuccessful efforts of Girtin’s patron, Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833), to obtain a position for him in the Academy Schools (Farington, Diary, 26 November 1795). Thereafter, Farington assiduously recorded unique details of Girtin’s patchy relationship with the Academy, noting the prices of his exhibits, for instance (Farington, Diary, 4 June 1797), as well as opinions about his work amongst the patrons of the day (Farington, Diary, 9 February 1799) together with precious information about the artist’s tours, which might otherwise have gone undocumented (Farington, Diary, 12 November 1798). Most importantly, it was Farington who chronicled the activities of the young Girtin and his great contemporary Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851) at the Adelphi home of Monro, most notably in 1798, when Farington recorded details of the division of labour between the artists, as well as the source for their works in the ‘outlines or unfinished drawings of Cozens &c &c. of which Copies they made finished drawings’ (Farington, Diary, 12 November 1798). 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) as are all of the relevant entries. However, we know nothing about Girtin’s relationship with Farington, though it is unlikely that he had a high opinion of his work; the older artist’s conservative use of a limited palette and a strong outline – typical of the tinted drawing style – was set to be swept aside by the precocious innovations in the art of watercolour as practised by Girtin and Turner.
The Old Severn Bridge at Bridgnorth
1799 - 1800
Bisham Abbey, on the River Thames