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Works Thomas Girtin

A Dilapidated Farm

1798 - 1799

Primary Image: TG1431: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), A Dilapidated Farm, 1798–99, watercolour on laid paper, 30.5 × 41.7 cm, 12 × 16 ⅜ in. Harrow School, London (1935.59).

Photo courtesy of The Keepers and Governors of Harrow School (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • A Dilapidated Farm
1798 - 1799
Medium and Support
Watercolour on laid paper
30.5 × 41.7 cm, 12 × 16 ⅜ in
Object Type
Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
Picturesque Vernacular

Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
278 as 'An Old Farmstead'; '1798'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in February 2020


Walker’s Galleries, London, 1930; Charles John Hegan (1845-1938); presented to the School, 1935

Exhibition History

Walker’s Galleries, 1930, no.55; Harrow, 1936, no.101; Manchester, 1975, no.45; Harrow, 2000, no.7; Harrow, 2001, no.6; Harrow, 2007, no.9


Mallalieu, 1976–79, p.388

About this Work

This image of a dilapidated farm building next to a pond is one of a series of views of vernacular structures embowered within a woodland setting that Girtin executed around 1798–99. Some of these were commissioned by Girtin’s father-in-law, Phineas Borrett (1756–1843), and they show the Essex farm buildings that the prosperous London goldsmith had bought as an investment (for example, see TG1413 and TG1414). What initially appear to be picturesque compositions produced from the imagination, similar to the rural scenes of Thomas Gainsborough (1727–88), were in fact studied from life, and it may be that the majority of Girtin’s cottage scenes, including this example, depict actual examples of the nation’s vernacular architecture. Indeed, from the titles that Girtin appended to the rural views he showed at the Royal Academy’s exhibitions, it seems that he was keen to emphasise that they were not simply picturesque compositions following the popular conventions of the day. Thus, the mill scene he showed in 1798 was stated to be ‘in Devonshire’ (TG1427), and a ‘Cottage’ in the same exhibition was taken ‘from nature’ (Exhibitions: Royal Academy, London, 1798, nos.677 and 575). In all of this, Girtin was following the example of Thomas Hearne (1744–1817) and his watercolours such A Cottage, near Witham, Essex (see comparative image TG1430). Hearne’s sketches of vernacular buildings in the southern counties featured prominently in the collection of the artists’ mutual patron Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833), and Girtin copied some of them at Monro’s home at the Adelphi (Exhibitions: Christie’s, 1 July 1833, lots 109 and 113). In general, Hearne’s views concentrate on recording the local materials used in the construction of the vernacular buildings, but he was not averse to depicting some of the more run-down or ruined structures that littered the countryside at this date (see figure 1), and it is surely his work, rather than, as Andrew Hemingway has suggested, the work of John Thomas Smith (1766–1833), that lies behind Girtin’s image here (Hemingway, 1992, p.22). Smith’s Remarks on Rural Scenery, which was published in 1797 with etchings of a series of decaying cottages (see figure 2), may have been known to Girtin, but it is more likely to have been the experience of copying Hearne’s works that alerted him to the picturesque potential of rural buildings when sketching in the countryside, though Smith’s example undoubtedly helped to develop the market for such scenes (Smith, 1797).

In comparison with so many of Girtin’s views of vernacular architecture from around 1798–99, this work has remained in good condition, though, as two small protected strips illustrate, the watercolour has undergone some discolouration and a slight degree of fading in the blues and greys in the sky. A different blue pigment, used for the reflections in the water, has lasted somewhat better, and the distinctive reds and brown of the tiles and the brickwork have remained strong. Buildings featuring a combination of dark brown roof tiles, red bricks, half-timbering and ornate chimneys occur in a number of Girtin’s views of vernacular architecture at this date, and at least one of these was definitely located in Essex (TG1452). What appears to be an on-the-spot colour drawing also includes many of the same elements (TG1439), and it is possible that this work was based on such a sketch and that it was therefore made on the same Essex trip on which Girtin studied the properties owned by Borrett. Views such as this presumably influenced, in turn, the work of John Sell Cotman (1782–1842), whose Ruined House shows a similar side-on view of a building missing its outer walls (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford (WA1931.8)).

(?) 1799

Pinckney’s Farm, Radwinter


(?) 1799

Turver’s Farm, Wimbish


1798 - 1799

An Overshot Mill


1798 - 1799

A Cottage amongst Trees


(?) 1799

Pinckney’s Farm, Radwinter


1798 - 1799

A Farmhouse


by Greg Smith

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