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Works Thomas Girtin

A Farmhouse

1798 - 1799

Primary Image: TG1439: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), A Farmhouse, 1798–99, graphite and watercolour on laid paper, 28.3 × 41 cm, 11 ⅛ × 16 ⅛ in. British Museum, London (1855,0214.17).

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

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • A Farmhouse
1798 - 1799
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on laid paper
28.3 × 41 cm, 11 ⅛ × 16 ⅛ in
Object Type
On-the-spot Colour Sketch
Subject Terms
Picturesque Vernacular

Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
407 as 'Unfinished'; '1800'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001, 2002 and 2018


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

Exhibition History

London, 2002, no.141


Binyon, 1898–1907, no.14; Lemaître, 1955, p.184

About this Work

This study of a farmhouse is very likely to have been coloured on the spot and is not, as Thomas Girtin (1874–1960) and David Loshak suggested, an unfinished studio watercolour (Girtin and Loshak, 1954, p.190). This can be demonstrated by comparing it with an example of an unfinished studio watercolour, St Ann’s Gate, Salisbury (TG1756), which illustrates Girtin’s normal practice of working across the whole of a composition in a single tone and then moving on to the next colour. In contrast, Girtin here coloured just enough of each of the different elements of the building to record the general appearance of the tiles, the brickwork and half-timbered walls, and the vegetation, something that would just not have made sense if the artist had been producing a studio watercolour. Additionally, there are a number of other features suggesting that the study was worked at speed from nature, ranging from the limited number of tints, which are used over a very utilitarian set of pencil outlines, to the way that the artist has lost control of the application of his washes of colour in a number of areas. The blotting, in particular, suggests the difficulties that Girtin had in working in the field when he added extra water to soften the tone of details such as the roof tiles to the left and the vegetation behind the building. Painting at speed in the field was still about capturing an effect, in this case of bright sunlight, but equally the artist needed to record the colours and textures of the materials used in the construction of the time-worn vernacular building.

The building itself cannot be identified, despite Girtin’s careful record, but structurally it bears a resemblance to two others that the artist depicted for his father-in-law and patron, Phineas Borrett (1756–1843), around 1798–99 of a property he owned known as Pinkney’s Farm (TG1413 and TG1452). The particular combination of red brick, half-timbered walls and brown earthen tiles is characteristic of the Essex properties that the London-based Borrett had bought as an investment. I suspect that this sketch, therefore, was made on the trip to Essex that Girtin must have undertaken to gather material for Borrett’s commission, and that the artist’s evident concern with the materials and textures of a rural farmhouse reflect a need to get such details correct for his patron. It is even possible that the work depicts Pinkney’s Farm itself, though it was not used as the basis for a finished work and shows a different view from the two watercolours that Girtin executed of that property.

On a technical note, the paper historian Peter Bower has described the support used by Girtin as a rope-brown laid wrapping paper, made by an unknown English manufacturer, worked on the artist’s favoured wireside, where the surface is impressed with the lines of the mould used in its manufacture. The paper was made from a blend of white low-grade linen, old hemp rope and coloured rags, and the sheet originally had a much coarser texture, but this was flattened out when it was mounted (Smith, 2002b, p.141; Bower, Report).

A close, albeit smaller copy of Girtin’s colour sketch appeared on the art market as ‘attributed to’ Henry Edridge (1768–1821) (Exhibitions: Sotheby’s, 7 July 2011, lot 279ii), having previously been attributed to Girtin. I had thought that this might have been a case of Girtin making a replica of his own drawing, and that he had perhaps sold the work to a collector keen to acquire an example of his sketching style. However, no longer dependent on an old black and white photograph, I could see that the colour washes are crude and the pencil drawing hard and very different from Girtin’s work. The signature to the right must therefore be a forgery, added to a copy by an unknown, probably amateur artist.

(?) 1802

St Ann’s Gate, Salisbury


(?) 1799

Pinckney’s Farm, Radwinter


(?) 1799

Pinckney’s Farm, Radwinter


by Greg Smith

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