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Works Thomas Girtin after (?) Edward Dayes

A Distant View of Corfe Castle

1794 - 1795

Primary Image: TG0365: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), after (?) Edward Dayes (1763–1804), A Distant View of Corfe Castle, 1794–95, graphite on wove paper, 12.9 × 20 cm, 5 ⅛ × 7 ⅞ in. Tate, Turner Bequest CCCLXXVII, 14 (D36584).

Photo courtesy of Tate (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) after (?) Edward Dayes (1763-1804)
  • A Distant View of Corfe Castle
1794 - 1795
Medium and Support
Graphite on wove paper
12.9 × 20 cm, 5 ⅛ × 7 ⅞ in
Object Type
Copy from an Unknown Source; Outline Drawing
Subject Terms
Castle Ruins; The West Country: Devon and Dorset

A Distant View of Corfe Castle (TG0365a)
Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in January 2018


Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833); his posthumous sale, Christie's, 26–28 June and 1–2 July 1833 (day and lot number not known); bought by Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851); accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest, 1856


Finberg, 1909, vol.2, p.1239 as 'Houses, with castle on distant hill' by Thomas Girtin; Tate Online as 'Dover Castle, Seen from Inland with Houses in the Foreground' (Accessed 06/09/2022)

About this Work

This distant view of Corfe Castle in Dorset is one of forty or so outline drawings by Girtin that came from the collection of Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833), many of which were bought at his posthumous sale by Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851) and are now therefore to be found in the Turner Bequest at Tate Britain. The majority were copied by Girtin from the sketches of either his first significant patron, the amateur artist and antiquarian James Moore (1762–99), or his master, Edward Dayes (1763–1804), and none of the drawings were made on the spot. The outlines, all conforming to Moore’s standard size of roughly 6 × 8 ¾ in (15.2 × 22.2 cm), were probably made around 1794–95, at a time when Girtin, together with Turner, was employed at Monro’s home at the Adelphi to produce watercolour versions of the outlines of John Robert Cozens (1752–97), amongst others. The precise function of Girtin’s copies after the drawings of Moore and Dayes is not so clear, however. A significant number were used as the basis for small watercolours painted on card, measuring roughly 3 × 4 ¾ in (7.6 × 12.1 cm), including fifteen or so that found a home in the Turner Bequest, and these may have been produced with a topographical publication in mind (Wilton, 1984a, p.12). That, in itself, does not explain why Monro came to own the larger pencil copies, however. In the absence of any documentary evidence, my hunch is that rather than being commissioned by Monro, the drawings were produced by Girtin for his own use as models for possible watercolour compositions – they all depict views of subjects he could not have seen by this date – and that he subsequently sold them to his patron.

The drawing has been titled ‘Dover Castle, Seen from Inland’, but, whilst it was clear that this was incorrect, it was only with the reappearance in 2019 of the small watercolour that Girtin made from his sketch that the scene was finally identified (TG0365a). The source for Girtin’s outline has not been traced, but it is likely to have been Moore, who visited Corfe in 1791 and made at least six sketches of the ruins on two dates (6 and 30 July), though none match the distant view shown here. It may be that Moore’s drawing has been lost, but equally Girtin could have worked from a sketch by Dayes, who visited the area at about the same time. Whichever is the case, it is clear that Girtin was working from an insubstantial secondary source, because although the artist has got the general lie of the land, the profiles of the different parts of the castle are approximate at best, and that is no doubt why the location was misidentified for so long.

The attribution of the pencil outlines in the Turner Bequest was a matter of considerable confusion until the publication of Andrew Wilton’s cogently argued article on the Monro School in 1984 (Wilton, 1984a, pp.9–10). Initially, Alexander Finberg, the first cataloguer of the bequest, ascribed the outlines to Girtin but thought that they were made on the spot (Finberg, 1913). Charles F. Bell, in turn, recognised that the drawings were copies, but suggested that they were made by George Isham Parkyns (c.1749–1824) in relation to his work on Moore’s Monastic Remains and Ancient Castles in England and Wales (1792) (Bell, 1915–17, pp.60–66). Then in 1938 Bell changed his mind and switched the attribution to Dayes, citing a letter from Turner in which he stated his opinion that the drawings he had bought from Monro’s sale had been produced by Girtin’s master (Bell, 1938–39, pp.97–103). Finally, Wilton’s article seems to have settled the argument, and I for one have no doubts about the attribution to Girtin of the set of drawings.

1795 - 1796

A Distant View of Corfe Castle


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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