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Works Thomas Girtin

A House Reflected in the Waters of an Estuary

1798 - 1799

Primary Image: TG1527: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), A House Reflected in the Waters of an Estuary, 1798–99, graphite and watercolour on laid paper, 17.6 × 27.5 cm, 6 ⅞ × 10 ¹³⁄₁₆ in. Rhode Island School of Design Museum, Providence, RI, anonymous gift (72.171.46).

Photo courtesy of Rhode Island School of Design Museum, Anonymous gift (72.171.46) (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • A House Reflected in the Waters of an Estuary
1798 - 1799
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on laid paper
17.6 × 27.5 cm, 6 ⅞ × 10 ¹³⁄₁₆ in
Object Type
Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
Coasts and Shipping; Unidentified Topographical View

Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
381 as 'River and Hills with a White House'; a 'water-colour study, probably out door'; '1800'
Description Source(s)
Museum Website


Christie’s, 13 December 1926, lot 7 as 'A Study of Hills and River'; bought by Thos. Agnew & Sons (stock no.2298); F. C. Annesley, 1954; Lord Ivor Charles Spencer-Churchill (1898–1956); Thos. Agnew & Sons, 1964; bought from them by an anonymous collector, £450; presented to the Museum, 1972

Exhibition History

Agnew’s, 1927, no.33 as ’The Edge of the Lake’; Agnew’s, 1938, no.76 as ’The Edge of the Lake’

About this Work

The subject of this spectacularly faded watercolour has not been identified, and, given the paucity of topographical information that is included, this is likely to remain the case. However, a number of details about the composition suggest that the subject was derived from a sketch made during Girtin’s tour of the West Country in the autumn of 1797. In particular, there is a series of coastal views taken in Devon, including Shaldon (TG1263) and Kingswear (TG1265), that depict the same basic composition, with a rounded hill surmounting a shoreline shown face on and with the pictorial emphasis placed on the reflections in the foreground water. Additionally, in what is probably another West Country estuary scene, a similar white building is reflected in the water (TG1296), and this motif is repeated in the later view of Exmouth that is known today as A Rainbow over the River Exe (TG1730). The evidence for a West Country scene is hardly overwhelming in isolation, but coastal views are comparatively rare in Girtin’s output and there are few, if any, alternatives. The sketches Girtin made along the north-east coast in Yorkshire and Northumberland, for instance, show oblique views quite different in character from the parallel scenes that are opened up by the characteristic form of the Devon estuaries, and, if I were to indulge in a little speculation, I might be tempted to suggest that the scene here might be found on the river Exe.

The very poor, faded condition of the watercolour makes dating difficult, and indeed it is not even entirely clear whether the work was coloured on the spot because, as Thomas Girtin (1874–1960) and David Loshak point out, the foreground looks unfinished; with this in mind, they concluded that it was a ‘study, probably out door’ (Girtin and Loshak, 1954, p.186). The authors’ date of 1800 for the work reflects their opinion that Girtin returned to the West Country for a second tour, and this view is shared by Susan Morris (Morris, 1986, pp.22–23). However, there is no documentary evidence for a second trip, which, according to Morris, would have (improbably) taken in many of the sites that Girtin had visited in 1797, and in the end I am not convinced that this work was sketched on the spot either. The work’s faded condition has obscured the fact that it originally had a carefully worked-up skyscape, and the bulk of the watercolour is made up of multiple layers of washes that, though not impossible to create on the spot, are not characteristic of Girtin’s sketching practice in the field. I suspect, therefore, that we are looking at a studio watercolour from around 1798–99 that was worked up from a sketch made in 1797.

1797 - 1798

Shaldon, Seen from Teignmouth


1797 - 1798

Kingswear, from Dartmouth


(?) 1797

An Estuary Scene, Probably in the West Country



A Rainbow over the River Exe


by Greg Smith

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