Thomas Holcroft (1745–1809) (see TG1930 figure 1) was a successful dramatist and author who is best known today for his radical politics and his support for the early ideals of the French Revolution. Holcroft was indicted for high treason in 1794 but was later released from Newgate Prison following the acquittal of his acquaintances John Thelwall (1764–1834) and John Horne Tooke (1736–1812). Girtin’s association with Holcroft is first recorded in a diary entry from early 1799, when he noted that Girtin ‘looked at my pictures, and praised them highly. After the Wilsons, his attention was most deeply attracted by the landscape by Artois’ (Holcroft, 1816, vol.3, p.129). This was shortly before Holcroft departed for the Continent, where he spent the next three years, a period he wrote up in his Travels from Hamburg, through Westphalia, Holland, and the Netherlands, to Paris (1804). The two volumes contain a substantial account of the latter part of Girtin’s time in Paris, when Holcroft accompanied him on three excursions to sketch ‘the places that were esteemed the most picturesque’ for what was to become Girtin’s Picturesque Views in Paris (Holcroft, 1804, vol.2, pp.488–98). Holcroft’s unique eye-witness account of Girtin at work is transcribed in the Documents section of the Archive (1802 – Item 1). Given that Holcroft acted as Girtin’s translator and guide, his account of their travels provides us with a vivid record of the artist’s sketching practice (TG1884), his delight in the intricacies of Gothic architecture, and his thoughts on the shortcomings of French scenery from the perspective of a landscape artist trained in the British picturesque tradition. Holcroft’s account also inevitably touches upon the evident marks of the recent revolution, all of which Girtin reacted to with a good-humoured detachment, suggesting that any radical sympathies he had once harboured were now in abeyance. Holcroft’s text was not known to authors Thomas Girtin (1874–1960) and David Loshak (Girtin and Loshak, 1954) and it certainly deserves to be carefully examined, as it provides the only direct evidence we have of the artist’s thoughts on landscape aesthetics, which perhaps not surprisingly turn out to be almost entirely practical and untheorised in character.
1800 - 1801
Sketch of Thomas Girtin’s Head
The View from the Palace Terrace at Saint-Germain-en-Laye, the Aqueduct of Marly in the Distance: Pencil Study for Plate Sixteen of ‘Picturesque Views in Paris’