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Works (?) Thomas Girtin

A Coast Scene with Two Beached Vessels

(?) 1800

Primary Image: TG1809: (?) Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), A Coast Scene with Two Beached Vessels, (?) 1800, graphite and watercolour on wove paper, 12.8 × 19.6 cm, 5 × 7 ¾ in. Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford (WA1934.137).

Photo courtesy of Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford (All Rights Reserved)

(?) Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • A Coast Scene with Two Beached Vessels
(?) 1800
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on wove paper
12.8 × 19.6 cm, 5 × 7 ¾ in

'Clarkson Stanfield RA' on the back

Object Type
On-the-spot Colour Sketch
Subject Terms
Coasts and Shipping

Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
428b as 'Two smacks stranded on a stretch of coast'; '1801'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001 and 2018


Thomas Calvert Girtin (1801–74); then by descent to George Wyndham Hog Girtin (1835–1911); then by a settlement to his sister, Mary Hog Barnard (née Girtin) (1828–99); then by descent to Francis Pierrepont Barnard (1854–1931); his widow, Isabella Barnard; bequeathed to the Museum, 1934


Brown, 1982, p.340, no.743 as 'Coast Scene with two stranded Vessels' by Thomas Girtin

About this Work

Thomas Girtin (1874–1960) and David Loshak related this rapidly executed colour sketch to a series of shipping studies that they thought Girtin executed on the North Yorkshire coast in 1801, even though each of those drawings is either in pencil or lightly washed over a dominant outline (Girtin and Loshak, 1954, pp.192–93). One of those sketches shows a beached vessel on the coast (TG1805), but the rest are small studies of various types of ship on the open sea, and on this count too I am inclined to reject the suggestion of a link between this drawing and the northern shipping scenes. In turn, David Brown, in his catalogue of the watercolours and drawings at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, approached the issue from a different angle, noting that the reverse of the drawing is actually inscribed ‘Clarkson Stanfield RA’ (Brown, 1982, p.340). Could it be, therefore, that the family provenance listed by Girtin and Loshak, which suggests that the drawing descended directly from the artist through his son, Thomas Calvert Girtin (1801–74), means that the attribution has not been probed as closely as it deserves? In fact, as far as I have been able to determine, there is no evidence in the Girtin Archive, other than family legend, to suggest that Thomas Calvert inherited any more than a few watercolours and sketches directly, whilst there are plenty of details of his collecting his father’s works on the open market during the latter part of his life. What concerns me here is that, apart from the provenance and a superficial resemblance to one of the handful of sketches of shipping subjects that Girtin made during his career, there is nothing to link this slight and not very impressive study to the artist. It may be that the sketch is by Girtin, but I feel that the burden of proof should lie with those who wish to uphold the attribution.

Concerns about the coastal scene are relatively insignificant compared with those relating to two other watercolour sketches of beached vessels that are still occasionally referred to as being by Girtin (see figure 1 and figure 2). The works were not included in Girtin and Loshak’s catalogue, and a note in the Girtin Archive (14) suggests that they may be by John Henderson (1764–1843) after a ‘late sketch by Girtin’. Apart from the early shipping subjects that Girtin copied from Henderson, there are no comparable colour sketches of boats under repair, and neither of these on-the-spot studies appears to have been derived from Henderson’s example. Indeed, the sketches were coloured on the spot, and there is no evidence that Henderson ever worked on this scale. A more plausible attribution has recently been put forward by Christopher Baker, who suggests the name of Girtin’s associate in Paris John Samuel Hayward (1778–1822), citing a comparable on the-spot sketch, Penzance Pier from the Dolphin Inn Window, dated 15 October 1807 (Yale Center for British Art, New Haven (B1986.29.536)). The amateur artist’s Paris sketches are preserved in a pocketbook in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, and, though there is no direct evidence that the two worked together, the influence of the older professional artist is readily apparent there as well as in these marine views (Baker, 2011, pp.164–65).

(?) 1800

A Beached Vessel


by Greg Smith

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