For full functionality of this site it is necessary to enable JavaScript. Here are the instructions how to enable JavaScript in your web browser.
Works Thomas Girtin

A House by a River

1798 - 1799

Primary Image: TG1437: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), A House by a River, 1798–99, graphite and watercolour on laid paper, 21.7 × 32 cm, 8 ½ × 12 ⅝ in. Private Collection.

Photo courtesy of Spink & Son Ltd. (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • A House by a River
1798 - 1799
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on laid paper
21.7 × 32 cm, 8 ½ × 12 ⅝ in
Object Type
Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
Picturesque Vernacular; River Scenery

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2000


Walker’s Galleries, London; bought by Leonard Gordon Duke (1890–1971) (D3868), 1961, £120; his sale, Sotheby’s, 29 April 1971, lot 71; bought by P & D Colnaghi & Co Ltd, £850; private collection, USA; Spink-Leger Pictures, 1999–2000

Exhibition History

Walker’s Galleries, 1961, no.52; Colnaghi’s, 1972, no.10; Spink-Leger, London, 2000, no.23


Grigson, 1975, p.76

About this Work

This badly faded watercolour depicts an unidentified house next to a river in an open landscape. In terms of its subject and the palette of colours it employs, it appears to form a pair with the similarly sized A Picturesque House Overlooking a River (TG1436). Both drawings have been adversely affected by fading, though to what extent they were originally monochrome is not entirely clear. In this case, small strips around the edges, which have been protected from the action of light, suggest that the darker clouds may originally have been a deep grey in tone. However, whether the work has also lost blues from the sky and reflections in the water, together with greens from the riverbanks and the distant trees, is difficult for me to say; certainly, the way in which the pencil underdrawing has become more visible suggests that the work has changed significantly. That this is not entirely to the detriment of the work stems from the fact that Girtin developed a bold and dramatic composition with the house, viewed from a low position, isolated against a low horizon, and the scene lacks any of the conventional framing elements that typically feature in views of picturesque buildings at this date. Moreover, the predominantly dark tones suit the gaunt and monumental image of a house whose windows have been hidden by the tortured and twisting forms of a dead or dying tree, which casts that side of the building into deep shade. The improbable placement of the tree in the water in front of the house suggests that although the building has the same idiosyncratic air of being studied from nature that is found in many of Girtin’s views of picturesque vernacular buildings, the setting may have been invented, not least as it appears to owe a debt to the example of Dutch seventeenth-century landscapes, with their low horizons and cattle shown on the banks of a river or canal.

1798 - 1799

A Picturesque House Overlooking a River, with Distant Windmills


by Greg Smith

Revisions & Feedback

The website will be updated from time to time and, when changes are made, a PDF of the previous version of each page will be archived here for consultation and citation.

Please help us to improve this catalogue

If you have information, a correction or any other suggestions to improve this catalogue, please contact us.