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Works Thomas Girtin

A Cottage in a Field

(?) 1802

Primary Image: TG1791: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), A Cottage in a Field, (?) 1802, graphite and watercolour on wove paper, 8.7 × 11.6 cm, 3 ⅜ × 4 ½ in. British Museum, London (1855,0214.40).

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

Description
Creator(s)
Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
Title
  • A Cottage in a Field
Date
(?) 1802
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on wove paper
Dimensions
8.7 × 11.6 cm, 3 ⅜ × 4 ½ in
Part of
Object Type
Colour Sketch: Studio Work
Subject Terms
Picturesque Vernacular; Rural Labour

Collection
Catalogue Number
TG1791
Girtin & Loshak Number
495
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001 and 2018

Provenance

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

Bibliography

Binyon, 1898–1907, no.18a

About this Work

This view of a dilapidated house with a church in the distance 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, if not carefully composed, as here, others resemble the picturesque vernacular subjects sketched in Essex three or four years earlier. 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.

(?) 1802

Copenhagen House, Islington

TG1783

by Greg Smith

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