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Works Thomas Girtin

A Distant View of Conwy Castle

(?) 1798

Primary Image: TG1307: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), A Distant View of Conwy Castle, (?) 1798, graphite and watercolour on laid paper, 29.4 × 44.2 cm, 11 ⅝ × 17 ⅜ in. British Museum, London (1855,0214.16).

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

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • A Distant View of Conwy Castle
(?) 1798
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on laid paper
29.4 × 44.2 cm, 11 ⅝ × 17 ⅜ in

‘Girtin’ lower right, by Thomas Girtin

Object Type
On-the-spot Colour Sketch
Subject Terms
Castle Ruins; North Wales

Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
360 as 'Conway Castle ... Unfinished'; '1800'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001 and 2018


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


Binyon, 1898–1907, no.50

About this Work

This distant view of Conwy Castle from the north east was sketched during Girtin’s trip to North Wales in the summer of 1798, though on the spot here probably means from a boat. Thomas Girtin (1874–1960) and David Loshak suggested that the work is ‘Unfinished’, however, and they dated it to 1800, though it is not clear whether they thought that it was an incomplete studio work or an on-the-spot sketch made on a second, putative visit to Wales (Girtin and Loshak, 1954, p.183). They argued that Girtin ‘revisited North Wales in the summer of 1800’, suggesting that this was proved by the existence of sketches ‘too advanced in style to have been done in 1798’ (p.40). There is no evidence to substantiate this claim, however, and it is now clear, I suggest, that the date of 1800 – which was added by Girtin himself to a substantial number of studio watercolours, including another view of Conwy Castle (TG1739) – stemmed from the fact that these were sold on the open market through an intermediary, and this had nothing to do with the artist’s schedule of tours. If Girtin and Loshak were mistaken to date this sketch to 1800, then there is still some merit to their statement that it is unfinished, though ‘interrupted’ might be the more accurate term. Thus, unlike in the other on-the-spot sketch made at Conwy (TG1305), whole areas of the sheet have been left untouched and other parts, such as the castle itself, have been abandoned without the subsequent wash of colour that is necessary to give form to the effect that Girtin set out to capture – namely, the way that a broken sky has partially lit up the ruins. Is it too fanciful to suggest that Girtin’s sketch was actually interrupted by the very effect he sought to capture, as the threatening sky, recorded with a few washes rapidly brushed in, turned to rain?

The sketch was not realised as a studio composition, begging the question as to why the artist should have made it on such a large scale. The intriguing comparison here is with another on-the-spot sketch made on a sheet of paper of the same generous dimensions, A Mountain View, near Beddgelert (TG1321). This work gives us a reasonable idea of what the Conwy Castle view might have looked like had it been carried closer to completion. Moreover, as the basis for the monumental studio watercolour of the same title (TG1322), it suggests that Girtin had something comparable in mind when he made this sketch of Conwy from the water opposite the ruins. Therefore, Girtin seems to have made a colour sketch, rather than a simple pencil outline, when a subject likely to attract an order was either encountered in a suitable light or accompanied by an appropriate weather effect. The resulting sketches would then both help in the production of the finished watercolour and provide a useful guide to prospective clients, who would get a better idea of what their commission might look like.


Conwy Castle, from the River Gyffin


(?) 1798

The Great Hall, Conwy Castle


(?) 1798

A Mountain View, near Beddgelert


1798 - 1799

A Mountain View, near Beddgelert


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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