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Works Thomas Girtin

A Distant View of Southampton

1797 - 1798

Primary Image: TG1234: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), A Distant View of Southampton, 1797–98, graphite and watercolour on wove paper, 13 × 18.1 cm, 5 ⅛ × 7 ⅛ in. Private Collection.

Photo courtesy of Christie's (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • A Distant View of Southampton
1797 - 1798
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on wove paper
13 × 18.1 cm, 5 ⅛ × 7 ⅛ in
Object Type
Colour Sketch: Studio Work
Subject Terms
Coasts and Shipping; Hampshire View

A Distant View of Southampton (TG1234a)
Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2003


Cotswold Gallery, London, 1926; ... Christie’s, 20 November 2003, lot 83

Exhibition History

Cotswold Gallery, 1926, no.22

About this Work

This rather faded watercolour depicting a distant view of Southampton seen from the south east is based on a drawing that was reattributed to Girtin during the preparation of this online catalogue and that he appears to have made on his tour to the West Country in 1797 (TG1234a). A similar view, though taken from further away, was the subject of a watercolour by Girtin’s master, Edward Dayes (1763–1804), which came from the collection of the artist’s early patron Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833) (see TG1234a figure 1). Although the view from the grounds of Cranbury Park, the home of the artist and aristocrat Nathaniel Dance (1735–1811), did not provide Girtin with his model in this case, it does help to explain why he chose what today might strike us as an unlikely subject for an ambitious watercolour artist. The Copper-Plate Magazine, which included a similar view to Girtin’s (see figure 1), expanded on the attractions of a scene that was well frequented by those in search of ‘health and pleasure’. The ‘country round is beautifully picturesque’, continued the text accompanying the print, ‘particularly about Netley Abbey … from the path to which place this view of the town is taken’ (Walker, 1792–1802). Girtin’s sketch of the view towards Southampton, therefore, was the scene that greeted tourists in search of picturesque views as they walked back along the path from the famous romantic ruins of Netley Abbey. This is of some significance for students of Girtin’s work since it suggests that, in addition to sketching this view, he may have based his watercolour depicting the ruins of Netley Abbey (TG0354) on his own on-the-spot drawing, rather than it being copied from the work of another artist, as I always assumed.

John Walker (active 1776–1802), after John Hassell (1767–1825), etching and engraving, 'Southampton' for <i>The Copper-Plate Magazine</i>, vol.2, no.36, pl.71, 1 January 1795, 15 × 20 cm, 5 ⅞ × 7 ⅞ in. British Museum, London (1862,0712.828).

Southampton at the end of the eighteenth century was yet to be developed as a major port. With its modest population, its main points of interest lay in the survival of its medieval urban defences and a fine array of spires that dominated its skyline, and both features are visible in Girtin’s distant view. To the left, amongst the shipping in the harbour, is the God’s House Tower (the old gaol), which features prominently in another watercolour by Girtin (TG1236), and to the right is the impressive spire of St Michael’s Church. The watercolour Southampton: The South Gate and Old Gaol (TG1726) is on the same small scale, and both works therefore have much in common with the modestly sized, sketch-like studio watercolours that Girtin began executing around 1796–97, which were targeted at collectors who appreciated the less formal aspects of the artist’s drawings and bought them for their portfolios. The impact of this watercolour has no doubt been altered by its condition, but it would never have displayed the more considered finish of larger-scale commissioned works, and, at its presumably cheaper price, that was no doubt a significant part of its attraction.

(?) 1797

A Distant View of Southampton


(?) 1797

The Ruined Chancel, Netley Abbey


1798 - 1799

Southampton Harbour


(?) 1800

Southampton: The South Gate and Old Gaol


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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