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Works Thomas Girtin

A Barn by a Road

(?) 1802

Primary Image: TG1793: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), A Barn by a Road, (?) 1802, graphite and watercolour on wove paper, 8.7 × 11.5 cm, 3 ⅜ × 4 ½ in. British Museum, London (1855,0214.34).

Photo courtesy of The Trustees of the British Museum (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • A Barn by a Road
(?) 1802
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on wove paper
8.7 × 11.5 cm, 3 ⅜ × 4 ½ in
Part of
Object Type
Colour Sketch: Studio Work
Subject Terms
Picturesque Vernacular; Rural Labour

Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
498 as 'Farmhouse by a Road'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001 and 2018


Chambers Hall (1786–1855); presented to the Museum, 1855


Binyon, 1898–1907, no.17b

About this Work

This view of a rustic barn on the bend of a road is one of fifteen generally slight colour sketches, all measuring roughly 8.9 × 11.4 cm (3 ½ × 4 ½ in), that appear to have come from a sketchbook worked late in Girtin’s career. Thomas Girtin (1874–1960) and David Loshak thought that these works ‘represent the fruits of local sketching trips taken during the summer of 1802’, and they argued that the fact that none of them were used as the basis for studio watercolours supported a late date (Girtin and Loshak, 1954, pp.84–85). However, only one of the scenes can be identified as a local view, Copenhagen House, Islington (TG1783), and although some of them appear to be imaginary, others, such as this example, resemble the picturesque vernacular subjects sketched in Essex three or four years earlier. In this case, Girtin has retained the same composition as Turver’s Farm, Radwinter (TG1414), substituting a barn for the double-gabled farmhouse that he had painted as a commission for his future father-in-law, the London goldsmith Phineas Borrett (1756–1843), around 1798–99. Thus, whilst the sketches were evidently created at speed, it is unlikely that they were worked up on the spot, being produced instead in the studio to satisfy the market for the less formal aspects of the artist’s output. The evidence that they come from a sketchbook is also ambiguous, since, as the paper historian Peter Bower has pointed out, specialised books for the use of artists were not manufactured at this date, and they either used pocketbooks or they themselves gathered together sheets of paper (Bower, 2002, p.141). New evidence, in the form of the account of John Girtin (1773–1821) of the material that he removed from his brother’s studio at his death, suggests that the latter was the case here. John records that amongst the items that he appropriated to settle his brother’s extensive unpaid debts were ‘4 little Books partly of sketches and partly blank paper’, and it seems likely that these included the group of small drawings now in the British Museum, which would, indeed, date from late in his life (Chancery, Income and Expenses, 1804). John Girtin was thus responsible for splitting up the ‘little Books’ and selling the sketches to collectors such as Chambers Hall (1786–1855), the generous patron of the museum (Smith, 2017–18, pp.35–36).

Such is the slight manner in which a limited number of washes have been added to the still-prominent pencil work here that I wonder whether such modest sketches would have been attributed to Girtin were it not for the provenance and the visual links with other works in the group. Indeed, given the crude way in which the washes have been added, there is, as with a number of other sketches from the ‘little Books’, a lingering suspicion that John Girtin himself might have been responsible for the colouring, attempting to make his stock more attractive to prospective purchasers. It is difficult to see what other function the addition of a single unmodulated tone of green over all of the areas marked as vegetation could perform, other than to enhance a modest pencil sketch for sale.

(?) 1802

Copenhagen House, Islington


(?) 1799

Turver’s Farm, Wimbish


by Greg Smith

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