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Works Thomas Girtin

A Farmyard with Cattle, Poultry and Labourers Unloading Hay, Possibly Pinkney's Farm, Wimbish

1800 - 1801

Primary Image: TG1757: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), A Farmyard with Cattle, Poultry and Labourers Unloading Hay, Possibly Pinkney's Farm, Wimbish, 1800–01, graphite, watercolour and gum arabic on laid paper, on an original mount, 32 × 52.5 cm, 12 ⅝ × 20 ⅝ in. Art Institute of Chicago, The Regenstein Collection (1995.216).

Photo courtesy of The Art Institute of Chicago, The Regenstein Collection (CC0 1.0 Universal)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • A Farmyard with Cattle, Poultry and Labourers Unloading Hay, Possibly Pinkney's Farm, Wimbish
1800 - 1801
Medium and Support
Graphite, watercolour and gum arabic on laid paper, on an original mount
32 × 52.5 cm, 12 ⅝ × 20 ⅝ in
Mount Dimensions
45.1 × 65.5 cm, 17 ¾ × 25 ¾ in
Object Type
Samuel William Reynolds: Dealer; Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
Essex View; Picturesque Vernacular; Rural Labour

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 1995


Elizabeth Weddell (née Ramsden) (1749–1831); probably bequeathed to John Charles Ramsden (1788–1836); then by descent to Phyllida Gordon-Duff-Pennington (née Pennington-Ramsden); Sotheby’s, 9 April 1992, lot 41, as 'A Farmyard with Cattle, Poultry and Labourers Unloading Hay', unsold; Sotheby’s, 12 April 1995, lot 64, £25,300; bought by the Leger Galleries, London; bought by the Art Institute, 1995

Exhibition History

Chicago, 1995, no catalogue; Chicago, 2004, no.10


Anonymous, 2000, pp.62–63; Smith, 2002b, p.168; Gallery Website as 'Phineas Borret's Farm near Saffron Walden' (Accessed 20/09/2022)

About this Work

This fine late watercolour of a farmyard and barns reflected in the still water of a pond has been identified as showing one of the properties in Essex owned by Girtin’s father-in-law, Phineas Borrett (1756–1843). The same substantial thatched barn located next to water features in a small sketch probably made in Girtin’s last year (TG1790), and comes from a group of drawings some of which do indeed appear to have been based on scenes in Essex, rather than being works of the imagination. However, if the watercolour does show a scene on one of the properties that the London goldsmith bought as an investment (which remained in the ownership of the Girtin family well into the nineteenth century), it is likely that the artist turned to an earlier sketch made on a trip to Essex that probably took place in 1799, rather than journeying once again to the area in 1801–2.

The watercolours of picturesque farm scenes that were the outcome of the commission for Borrett, such as another view of Pinkney’s Farm, Wimbish (TG1413), were no doubt designed to celebrate the ‘pure charms of the country, the quiet, the simplicity, and innocence of rural life’, as one contemporary writer put it, and thus ‘tranquilize the perturbations’ of city dwellers (Williams, 1804, pp.16–17). This watercolour, although ostensibly similar in terms of subject, was produced in quite different circumstances, and to another agenda not set by a patron. Thus, although the work may have been painted a year or two later at the most, it almost certainly formed part of the stock of Samuel William Reynolds (1773–1835), who acted on behalf of Girtin in his final years in a role somewhere between agent and dealer. Girtin began supplying Reynolds with his works for sale on the open market around 1800, and a watercolour such as this, which conforms to the larger of two standard sizes, was valued initially at seven guineas, quickly rising to ten pounds (Reynolds, Letter, 1801).1This was the price that Elizabeth Weddell (1749–1831), the probable first owner of this work, paid for a group of five other watercolours that include some of the artist’s finest late works (such as TG1725 and TG1743) (Reynolds, Letter, 1803).2 The point is that, whilst for Borrett an image of an Essex farmyard commissioned from the artist would have had a personal meaning related to his investment in rural property of money earned in the city, for Weddell the work’s attractions are more likely to have been centred on its effective display of the artist’s special skills. A timeless scene of rural activities amongst picturesque vernacular buildings it may be, but a third of the image is taken up with a reflection that is calculated to demonstrate Girtin’s ability to render rural life as pattern and shape that border on the abstract.

A Farmyard

On a technical note, the paper historian Peter Bower has identified the support used by Girtin as an off-white laid drawing cartridge by an unknown Dutch maker (Bower, Report). It is therefore the same as that used by the artist for A Mountain View, near Beddgelert (TG1322), Kirkstall Abbey, from Kirkstall Bridge, Morning (TG1636) and A View on the River Wharfe (TG1674). Unusually for a later work by Girtin, the watercolour is in good condition, having lost only a little of the blues and greens that in so many other cases have faded because of the use of fugitive pigments. In this example, the warm tonality was always a part of the watercolour’s effect, rather than a result of a change in colour such as is seen in the farm scenes painted for Borrett.

A badly faded and poor-quality copy of the work by an unknown follower (see figure 1) is in the collection of the Cooper Gallery, Barnsley.

(?) 1802

A Barn by a Pond


(?) 1799

Pinckney’s Farm, Radwinter



The Village of Jedburgh


1800 - 1801

Landscape with a Distant Ridge, Possibly Hampstead Heath


1798 - 1799

A Mountain View, near Beddgelert


1800 - 1801

Kirkstall Abbey, from Kirkstall Bridge, Morning


1800 - 1801

A View on the River Wharfe


by Greg Smith

Place depicted


  1. 1 The details are contained in a letter from Reynolds to Sawrey Gilpin (1733–1807). The letter is transcribed in the Documents section of the Archive (1801 – Item 4).
  2. 2 The letter detailing the sales of Girtin’s works by Reynolds is transcribed in full in the Documents section of the Archive (1803 – Item 3).

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