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Works Thomas Girtin

A Folding Bed

1799 - 1800

Primary Image: TG1516: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), A Folding Bed, 1799–1800, graphite on wove paper, 15 × 10.3 cm, 5 ⅞ × 4 in. British Museum, London (1855,0214.66).

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

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • A Folding Bed
1799 - 1800
Medium and Support
Graphite on wove paper
15 × 10.3 cm, 5 ⅞ × 4 in
Object Type
Outline Drawing
Subject Terms
Miscellaneous Studies

Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
208 as 'A Folding Bed ... in which Girtin slept when in Devonshire, turned up on its hinges'; '1797'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001 and 2018


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


Binyon, 1898–1907, no.61a

About this Work

This sketch of a folding bed upturned on its hinges was said by Thomas Girtin (1874–1960) and David Loshak to be the ‘bed in which Girtin slept when in Devonshire’ in 1797, though the authors of the catalogue of the artist’s works did not record the evidence on which they based their claim (Girtin and Loshak, 1954, p.162). It is possible that they had access to an otherwise unrecorded inscription, but I suspect that this was a case of making a decision about the date of a drawing from stylistic evidence and then fitting this into the pattern of the artist’s known travels. From our perspective, the sketch appears to be a clear case of Girtin encountering something on the road that was so unusual that it demanded to be recorded, including the detail of the chamber pot underneath. In fact, as a cursory survey of the history of eighteenth-century furniture reveals, a folding bed was far from a rarity at the time, and not just amongst the military classes, with their ingenious camp beds. In what Amanda Vickery has described as a ‘space-strapped market even amongst the rich’, folding beds could be hidden in wardrobes, presses and commodes (Vickery, 2009, p.296). The example sketched by Girtin, which appears to have opened out with a short tester above, is amongst the more utilitarian examples, and, given that it does not appear to have had the capacity to be hidden away, it may indeed have been sketched at an inn, as Girtin and Loshak assumed.

The drawing is notable for the particularly soft graphite used by Girtin and the evident speed with which he worked, and this is confirmed by the appearance of a fingerprint at the lower left. A disturbance in the edge of the paper at the top also hints that the drawing may have been extracted from a sketchbook. The measurements do not quite tally with the slightly bigger drawings that appear to have come from a book used in Yorkshire around 1799–1800, however (TG1509 and TG1510).

1799 - 1800

Grimbald Bridge, near Knaresborough


1799 - 1800

A Crag on the River Nidd


by Greg Smith

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