Robert Ker Porter (1777–1842) was a fellow member with Girtin of the Sketching Society, founded in May 1799; he was one of five professional artists and three amateurs. In all he attended eleven of the meetings. Two of his drawings, made after poetic passages by William Cowper (1731–1800) (see TG1501 figure 1) and an anonymous source (see TG1502 figure 1), have been identified, illustrating the fact that his work retained a degree of independence and a level of imagination not shown by all of his contemporaries (Sketching Society, Minute Book). Details of the Society’s Laws, the names of attendees, and excerpts from the selected poems are transcribed in the Documents section of the Archive (1799 – Item 5). The financial success enjoyed by Porter’s monumental (lost) painting Storming of Seringapatam may have influenced Girtin’s decision to create his Eidometropolis, or London panorama, on ‘a scale of two feet longer than Mr. Porter’s’ work, as one his advertisements boasted (Monthly Magazine, September 1802, p.159). Porter’s posthumous sale included material relating to the Sketching Society, though it has not been possible to match this with any of the surviving drawings from the meetings (Exhibitions: Christie’s, 30 March 1843). He also subscribed to a set of Girtin’s Paris prints (Chancery, Income and Expenses, 1804). A list of subscribers is included in John Girtin’s account of the income he received from the Picturesque Views in Paris, together with the expenses incurred in completing the project. They are transcribed in the Documents section of the Archive (1804 – Item 1).

In the summer of 1799 Porter undertook a tour of North Wales in the company of another member of the Sketching Society, Thomas Richard Underwood (1772–1836). Porter’s journal records that they followed a roughly circular route across Wales to the west coast, then up to Beddgelert via Caernarfon and back through the Vale of Clwyd, and it may be that their itinerary was influenced by the example of Girtin’s 1798 trip (Porter, 1799). Indeed, given that Underwood’s view of the Eagle Tower at Caernarfon Castle (Tate Britain, T09273) replicates Girtin’s view (TG1309), it is possible that he and Porter had also seen their fellow artist’s Welsh sketches. Porter and Underwood were joined for part of the trip by a third member of the Sketching Society, François Louis Thomas Francia (1772–1839).


The Frozen Watermill, from William Cowper’s ‘The Task’


1799 - 1800

An Ancient Castle


1798 - 1799

The Eagle Tower, Caernarfon Castle