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Works Thomas Girtin

A Distant View of Southampton

(?) 1797

Primary Image: TG1234a: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), A Distant View of Southampton, (?) 1797, graphite on wove paper, 13 × 20.3 cm, 5 ⅛ × 8 in. Rhode Island School of Design Museum, Providence, RI, anonymous gift (21.387).

Photo courtesy of Rhode Island School of Design Museum, Anonymous gift (21.387) (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • A Distant View of Southampton
(?) 1797
Medium and Support
Graphite on wove paper
13 × 20.3 cm, 5 ⅛ × 8 in

'J.M.W.T.' lower left, by an uknown hand; 'Southampton' lower right, by Thomas Girtin

Object Type
Outline Drawing
Subject Terms
Coasts and Shipping; Hampshire View

A Distant View of Southampton (TG1234)
Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Museum Website


Edward Brookes, Massachusetts, 1914; Eliza Greene Metcalf Radeke (1854–1931); presented to the Museum, 1921


Museum Website as by Joseph Mallord William Turner (Accessed 15/09/2022)

About this Work

This pencil sketch of the view along the coast to the port of Southampton was attributed to Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851) on the basis of the initials ‘J.M.W.T’, inscribed on it to the lower left. However, this form of his signature appears only much later and its presence on a drawing clearly dating from the 1790s suggests that it was added later by another hand. A number of other features indicate that the drawing is actually by Turner’s almost exact contemporary, Girtin. The inscription to the right identifying the location as ‘Southampton’ appears to be in Girtin’s handwriting, and every aspect of the handling of the graphite is in keeping with the pencil drawings that he made on the spot during his West Country tour in 1797. In particular, a series of sketches of shipping and coastal scenes, such as A Wharf with Shipping, Possibly at Bristol (TG1288), provides close parallels with this Southampton view. The economical way that the artist has delineated the boats and their relationship to the onshore buildings with a series of pressed points and swiftly drawn lines of subtly varying pressure is a feature of Girtin’s draughtsmanship that marks it out from Turner’s less fluent style. The attribution is confirmed by the existence of a small finished watercolour by Girtin of the same distant view of the port, which is surely based on this drawing (TG1234). A larger pencil sketch by Girtin, inscribed 'Northam near Southampton', is recorded in the Girtin Archive as being in the same private collection in Massachusetts in 1914. The view on the west bank of the river Itchen has not been traced.

Southampton from the Grounds of Cranbury Park

The fact that this sketch of Southampton is by Girtin does not in itself mean that the artist visited the port, as many of his pencil sketches from the middle part of the 1790s were made after other artists. Edward Dayes (1763–1804), Girtin’s master, visited the area and took in a slightly more distant view of the town from the route to the nearby picturesque location of Netley Abbey (see figure 1), and it is perfectly possible that the artist copied an untraced sketch by his master in this case. That said, the quality of the drawing, as far as I can tell from an online image, is much higher than the run-of-the-mill, slightly mechanical copies that Girtin tended to produce from Dayes’ sketches (such as TG0275), and I consequently suspect that it was produced on the spot. Whether this means that Girtin made a special trip to Southampton or whether he took in the town on his tour of the West Country in 1797 is open to question. The two documented dates we have for the trip, which put him in Exeter in early November and Bideford in north Devon later in the month, would suggest that if the latter was the case he could have visited Southampton on the outward part of his journey, moving along the coast from Hampshire to Dorset, and then on to Devon (Chancery, Income and Expenses, 1804).1 The drawing is of some importance, therefore, for understanding both the route of Girtin’s tour and the status of a group of Hampshire scenes that I had hitherto assumed were worked up from images by other artists.

(?) 1797

A Wharf with Shipping, Possibly at Bristol


1797 - 1798

A Distant View of Southampton


1794 - 1795

The Keep of Rochester Castle, from the South East


by Greg Smith

Place depicted


  1. 1 The financial records of the artist's brother John Girtin (1773–1821) include two loans he made to Thomas Girtin during the trip. The records are transcribed in full in the Documents section of the Archive (1804 – Item 1).

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