John Girtin (1773–1821), the elder brother of the artist, was an eminent letter engraver who latterly became his business partner. John has hitherto tended to be included in Girtin’s story as something of a rogue who, according to family tradition, was the source of forgeries of his brother’s work or at least guilty of seeking to pass off his own drawings as by his famous sibling (Girtin and Loshak, 1954, p.123). It is possible that John added some colour to the numerous mainly slight sketches that he bought at the sale of Mary Ann Girtin’s (1781–1843) share of her late husband’s works (Exhibitions: Christie’s, 1 June 1803). However, sketches such as A Crag on the River Nidd (TG1510), together with the significant number of drawings that he appropriated from the artist’s studio at the latter’s death, meant that in his role as a dealer in Girtin’s works he had no need to add to his stock through subterfuge. The full extent of John’s role in the dissemination of his brother’s works, including the fine colour studies for the London panorama (TG1851), has only recently become evident, however. The discovery of the financial records that he supplied in reply to the Chancery case brought against John by Mary Ann Girtin – who laid claim to the full income from the artist’s London panorama, the Eidometropolis, and the twenty aquatints that made up the Picturesque Views in Paris – has provided crucial evidence regarding the prosecution of the two projects that dominated Girtin’s last years. John’s involvement in both projects was both financial and practical. He lent the artist £100 4s ‘to go to Paris’ with the Eidometropolis, and after its display was obstructed he masterminded its installation and running in London at Spring Gardens from August 1802. As for the Paris prints, John taught his brother the art of soft-ground etching, designed and executed the elaborate lettering for the title pages and the prints themselves, and generally oversaw the complex business of adding aquatint to the etched plates, before finally marketing the prints and securing their sale through subscription. ‘Conducting the work of views of Paris’, he claimed, took up ‘94 weeks’ (between 2 June 1802 and 25 March 1804), the expense of which was only partly covered by the income he received from the sale of the prints (Chancery, Income and Expenses, 1804). John's financial records, covering the income he received from the sale of the contents of his brother's studio, as well as from the Eidometropolis and the twenty aquatints of the Picturesque Views in Paris, together with a detailed account of the expenses from both projects, are transcribed in the Documents section of the Archive (1804 – Item 1). Although some of John’s figures may have been inflated, there is no doubting the crucial role he played in realising highly capitalised projects that would have been well beyond the capacity of the artist unaided, and they should therefore more properly be considered as collaborative ventures (Smith, 2017–18, pp.28–47).
John Girtin’s accounts also indicate that he provided material support for his brother throughout the latter’s career, with loans extended to cover the cost of travel, their shared lodgings and other sundries, including the cost of the artist’s funeral. John also appears to have been the buyer of Girtin’s only oil painting, Bolton Bridge (TG1687), for which he paid £25 4s at the posthumous sale (Exhibitions: Christie’s, 1 June 1803, lot 133). The painting, which has not been seen since, is presumed to have been lost in the fire that destroyed John’s house in 1817 along with much of the remaining stock of the Paris prints. John was also the publisher of an engraving after Girtin’s watercolour St Paul’s Cathedral, from St Martin’s-le-Grand (see print after TG1394), a view that must have had a shared meaning, being the site of their childhood home.
1799 - 1800
A Crag on the River Nidd
The Albion Mills: Colour Study for the ‘Eidometropolis’, Section One
1795 - 1796
St Paul’s Cathedral, from St Martin’s-le-Grand